Teen victim laments plea deal for ex-coach who abused her
A teenage girl is blasting the plea bargain prosecutors gave to the Davis County high school basketball coach who sexually abused her.
Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki had been scheduled for trial next month on eight first-degree felony counts of forcible sodomy, one first-degree felony count of attempted rape, and two second-degree felony counts of forcible sexual abuse.
However, on Thursday in 2nd District Court, the 34-year-old man was allowed to enter guilty pleas to four third-degree felonies two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a 16- to 17-year old.
Niedzwiecki is a former coach at Jefferson Academy in Kaysville, where the victim was a student athlete. Inappropriate contact allegedly began when the girl was a freshman, but did not escalate to sex until after she graduated in 2011, a relationship that ended in late 2012.
Prosecutors contend that Utah statutes, and recent Utah Supreme Court rulings, made it clear that in order for Niedzwiecki to be convicted of the more serious violation of "a position of special trust," contained within a first-degree felony count, the actual sexual activity would have had to occur while the girl was still his student.
Judge Michael Allphin agreed, accepting the guilty pleas.
The victim, now a 17-year-old student at Weber State University, told reporters outside the courtroom that she felt "betrayed" by the plea deal. She also vowed to work with legislators to strengthen the application of, and the penalties for, cases like hers.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said Friday that he was convinced that his prosecutor assigned to the case, Cristina Ortega, had made the right decision.
"[Her] plea negotiation was based on a valid assessment of fact and law. It is a disservice to victims to give them erroneous information, false expectations or go to trial when we cannot prove all elements of a particular charge," he said.
"At trial, prosecutors actually have to prove what we charge, beyond a reasonable doubt, to a unanimous jury," Rawlings further stated. "Cristina Ortega did a service to the victim and the justice system by entering into an appropriate resolution [and], at sentencing, the defendant will now be held accountable for crimes committed."
Niedzwiecki faces a maximum of five years in prison on each of the remaining counts when he is sentenced by Allphin on March 21.