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Former Utah teacher sentenced to prison for sex with teen

Published April 10, 2014 10:15 am

Courts • Stephen Niedzwiecki gets the maximum penalty: up to 20 years in prison.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Farmington • Before Jaime Heiner met her junior high school teacher, Stephen Niedzwiecki, she had never kissed a boy.

The 15-year-old had never had a boyfriend, and the only things she knew about sex, she had learned in a sixth-grade maturation class.

So when her former teacher began pursuing her romantically and the relationship became sexual, Heiner said she didn't know it was abuse.

"I did not consent," the now-18-year-old woman told a judge during Niedzwiecki's sentencing hearing Thursday. "As a 15-year-old girl, I did not know what it meant to be in a relationship. ... I never expected to be taken to the places that he took me."

Heiner told 2nd District Judge Michael Allphin on Thursday that even though she had not had contact with Niedzwiecki in more than a year, the abuse still haunts her dreams. She's too afraid to go to sleep, she said, and at one time had slept on the floor in her parents' bedroom because she was scared to be alone.

"I fear that I will see Mr. Niedzwiecki's face on my wedding night," Heiner told the judge.

She asked the judge for the maximum sentence — four consecutive five-year prison terms — for Niedzwiecki, who has admitted to the sexual relationship.

The judge did just that Thursday, ordering Niedzwiecki to serve up to 20 years behind bars.

"He introduced her to sexual acts that she had never heard of, let alone experienced," Allphin said before handing down the sentence. "He committed despicable acts."

As Niedzwiecki was led away in handcuffs, Heiner broke into tears.

After the hearing, Heiner said, "I started crying because I was so happy that justice will be served."

Niedzwiecki, 34, was originally charged in 2nd District Court with 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.

In January, he pleaded guilty 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 Heiner was a student athlete. Inappropriate contact allegedly began when the girl was a freshman but did not escalate to sexual contact until after she graduated in 2011, according to court records.

Niedzwiecki apologized to Heiner and her family Thursday, and asked the judge for mercy with his sentencing, telling Allphin that he wanted to continue therapy.

"I did not begin my relationship with Jaime with any goal in mind," he told the judge.

Before the sentencing, Niedzwiecki's attorneys, Cara Tangaro and Scott Williams, had opposed a presentence report filed by Adult Probation & Parole, which Tangaro said contained "extensive advocacy."

In a sentencing memorandum filed this week, Tangaro said Heiner's parents were aware of Niedzwiecki's relationship with their daughter, and that the teen girl and the former teacher both wanted a relationship.

"All [sexual activity] was engaged in with mutual desire and participation," Tangaro wrote. "It was also, of course, illegal, due to the difference in age between Ms. Heiner and Mr. Niedzwiecki. However, the characterizations being made only now as sentencing looms — of this relationship as predatory, manipulative, or driven by the desires of only one actor — are inaccurate and unfair, and not supported by the evidence in this case."

Heiner said in a recent interview that she felt Niedzwiecki was "really manipulative" and remarked she was always uncomfortable with the sexual acts that occurred between them. She said she went along with it because she thought if she didn't, he would do what he wanted with her anyway. The teen said that Niedzwiecki also told her that if she ever came forward to report the abuse, "his life would be over," she said.

Heiner's mother, Susan Heiner, said after the sentencing that, as parents, they were naive about Niedzwiecki's intentions with their daughter.

"We were guilty of not protecting our daughter," she said. "But he did not come into our home with 'pedophile' written on his forehead."

The Salt Lake Tribune does not generally name victims of sexual abuse, but is doing so in Heiner's case, with her permission, because she has gone public with her experience and is using it to encourage other victims to speak out.

After Niedzwiecki pleaded guilty in January, Heiner began publicly advocating for Prevent Child Abuse Utah, and she started her own victim-empowerment organization, I Am.

"My biggest thing is abuse awareness and victim empowerment," she told The Tribune in March. "Throughout the time I was being abused, I didn't know what abuse was. I thought I was the only one and that kept me silent for a really long time because I didn't realize that one in three women are sexually abused."

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller