Former teacher, Catholic youth worker could face life in sex abuse trial
GRAND FORKS -- A North Dakota science teacher had sex last year in a Grand Forks hotel with a 14-year-old girl after he met her in a Catholic parish on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and bought her pink and black dresses, high heels, jewelry and underwear, say prosecutors.
Sean Kovalevich, 28, has pleaded not guilty and on Wednesday for the first time faced the jury that could put him in prison for life.
Kovalevich is a former anti-abortion protester in Delaware who came to North Dakota in 2010 to work with Indian youth at a Catholic mission in Belcourt.
But he was arrested late last year only weeks after he started teaching science in Starkweather.
Prosecutors charged him with two counts of Class AA felony gross sexual imposition of a girl under 15, alleging he twice engaged in sexual acts with the girl in early February 2012 in a room at the Canad Inns when she was 14.
They also charged him with a lesser count of corruption of a minor, alleging he again had sex with her in the same hotel in August 2012 when she was 15. That charge has a top sentence of five years in prison.
The girl testified for the prosecution Wednesday.
According to the probable cause affidavit, during Thanksgiving break last year, tribal police found Kovalevich with a gun and minor girls in a room at the Sky Dancer Casino in Belcourt.
One of the girls was the alleged victim who told investigators she had sex with Kovalevich in Grand Forks earlier in 2012.
The prosecution’s exhibits include black panties, several dresses and “multiple” pairs of shoes, jewelry, handcuffs, a whip and a hair brush allegedly bought for the girl by Kovalevich, as well as love letters they exchanged and photos he took of the two of them kissing.
Met in Grand Forks
Kovalevich came to North Dakota in 2010, said Meredith Larson, who with Jason McCarthy is prosecuting the case. Both are assistant state’s attorneys for Grand Forks County.
“He’s very religious,” Larson said, confirming that Kovalevich came from Delaware to work at St. Ann’s Catholic parish in Belcourt with young people. A mission parish run by a religious order, St. Ann’s typically attracts volunteers from around the country to work with American Indian youth in its school and camps.
According to Kovalevich’s online resume, he taught fifth and sixth grades at St. Ann’s from Aug. 9, 2010, to Sept. 12, 2011.
During that span, the alleged victim would have been his student, according to testimony Wednesday.
Kovalevich’s attorney, Kiara Kraus-Parr, cross-examined Craig Zachmeier, an agent for the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation who interviewed the girl a year ago. Kraus-Parr suggested the girl’s version of events pointed to sexual activity last year with Kovalevich at the Ramada hotel in Fargo, not at the Canad Inns in Grand Forks.
But Zachmeier said although the two also stayed in the Fargo hotel after their stays at the Canad Inns in February and August of last year, motel receipts and the girl’s description of the Canad Inns made it clear the crimes happened in Grand Forks.
The girl initially “didn’t think she was a victim,” which isn’t unusual for such young victims of sexual assaults, Zachmeier testified.
Kevin Robson, sales manager of the Canad Inns, testified Wednesday about the receipts.
At the time of his arrest nearly a year ago, Kovalevich was teaching school.
He was hired late, after school started last fall, as the science teacher in Starkweather High School while living in nearby Cando, said Julie Wass, business manager at the school. His background check came back clear and the school was happy to find a science teacher so late in the term, Wass said in an interview Wednesday.
But once school officials learned of his arrest last Thanksgiving on charges involving the Belcourt girl, he was quickly dismissed, Wass said.
There have been no reports that Kovalevich sexually abused anyone at the Starkweather school, although nobody knew much about him, Wass said.
“He kept to himself, never came to lunch,” Wass said.
After Thanksgiving last year, Kovalevich was arrested in his Cando apartment and charged with resisting arrest after police said he had a gun and would not open his door. He also was charged with corruption of minor after police said he had an underage runaway girl in his apartment and would not allow the girl’s mother or police to get her out. Those charges are pending.
According to his own resume he posted online, Kovalevich said after he taught in Belcourt, he worked as a 911 dispatcher at the multicounty Lake Region Law Enforcement Center in Devils Lake from October 2011 until he got the teaching job in Starkweather.
According to Kovalevich’s resume, he taught junior and senior high school science in Starkweather last year from Oct. 24 to Dec. 20.
He said he previously worked for several years in Delaware for a defense contractor and had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education in Salt Lake City.
According to online news sources, Kovalevich was briefly detained by police in June 2011 at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Wilmington, Del., where he was filming the arrest of another abortion protester. Kovalevich was released within 20 minutes, the news site reported.
He has remained free on $25,000 bail since his arrest. His trial is scheduled to continue through Friday.