Jury likely won’t see polygraph test results for former West Fargo teacher accused of having sex with student
FARGO - A defense attorney for the 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year accused of having a sexual relationship with a student in 2009 will not be permitted to present polygraph evidence at trial when the case goes before a jury this month.
FARGO – A defense attorney for the 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year accused of having a sexual relationship with a student in 2009 will not be permitted to present polygraph evidence at trial when the case goes before a jury this month.
A Cass County District Court judge ruled on Monday that any polygraph evidence would be excluded from the trial of West Fargo teacher Aaron Knodel unless it is submitted beforehand and can be vetted for reliability. Defense attorney Robert Hoy said he was “not sure yet” if he would submit the test his client passed. He said expert review of the test comes at a high expense.
Hoy had also asked the court that testimony from a North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent who believes handwriting evidence is Knodel’s not be allowed. Judge Steven E. McCullough declined to rule on Monday, meaning the agent will be allowed to testify but his testimony may be excluded at the time of trial.
According to the criminal complaint, the student provided the BCI with a copy of a “Twilight” novel that contains notes from Knodel that refer to their relationship.
McCullough granted a pretrial request from Hoy allowing him partial access to the victim’s medical records. Hoy in his request last week said the records may contain evidence about the victim’s credibility and character. Hoy said the state’s only witness to the crime has admitted mental health problems.
McCullough will allow some of the victim’s medical records, including treatments and surgery records, be released to the defense. He said his officer will look at other records and decide if they should be allowed to the defense as part of the case.
Assistant North Dakota Attorney General Jonathan Byers – who is prosecuting the case – has said he wanted the defense’s access limited to what the student told her doctor about what happened between her and Knodel. Byers does not want this case to set a precedent that would make victims afraid to come forward because their history and character will be “drug through the mud.”
Knodel was charged Aug. 22 with five counts of felony corruption or solicitation of a minor. He’s accused of engaging in sexual acts with a then-17-year-old student in his West Fargo High School classroom, at his home and in her car, starting in early 2009. He pleaded not guilty on Nov. 5 to all five felonies.
When Knodel was charged, Hoy said his client had taken and passed a lie detector test proving his innocence.
Byers had asked the court that no mention of the polygraph be made at trial. Byers argued that polygraph evidence is considered unreliable and inadmissible in court in most states and that Hoy should not be discussing the polygraph.
“The reason it’s no secret is because Mr. Hoy blabbed to the media about it,” Byers said in court on Monday.
Byers also argued Monday that it should be up to the jury to decide how they weigh the BCI agent’s testimony.
McCullough said Monday he will not issue a formal ruling on the agent’s testimony until the trial begins.
Knodel, dressed in a dark suit, appeared in court on Monday with his wife and Hoy. He requested the case move forward to a jury trial. Knodel could have changed his plea or requested a court trial in which only a judge would hear evidence in the case and make a final decision.
The victim also appeared in court on Monday. The former student is identified in court records only by her initials. The Forum typically does not identify victims of alleged sex-related crimes.
The jury trial is scheduled to begin March 24.
The West Fargo School Board placed the 35-year-old English teacher and activities coach on paid leave about a year ago while authorities investigated the allegations, then suspended him without pay or benefits on Aug. 25 after he was charged. In September, the North Dakota teacher licensing board decided to take no action on the fate of Knodel’s teaching license until after court proceedings have played out.