March 25, 2016 - 1:32 pm
After jurors found a former Rancho High School teacher guilty of kidnapping and sexual conduct with a student, his attorney called for changing a Nevada law that broadly defines first-degree kidnapping of a minor.
The unanimous verdict, reached Friday in Clark County District Court after only two hours of deliberation, hinged on the jury’s technical reading of a statute that forbids an adult from enticing a minor with the intent to commit an unlawful act against him or her.
Jurors told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that it did not take long to agree on convicting Lofthouse, 33, for 10 lesser felony counts of sexual conduct between a school employee and pupil, a charge he did not dispute. They struggled, however, to accept the state prosecutor’s definition of “enticement.”
“It was a difficult case,” said Donna Lewis, 62, one of six women who served on the jury.
“He made some mistakes, and she did as well,” Lewis said, referring to the student, who was 17 at the time of Lofthouse’s arrest in June.
The student earlier in the week testified that she and the teacher both initiated the relationship, which included sexual contact in his classroom over a period of several weeks. Now 18, the student also told jurors she never felt trapped or coerced into having sex with Lofthouse when they visited area hotels on May 20 and 28.
Regardless, “you can’t use the word ‘consensual’ as a defense, so you just have to go by the law,” Lewis said. “As a teacher he should have known better.”
Lewis seemed inclined to agree with a rewording of the kidnapping statute, which defense attorney Dmitry Gurovich described as too broad.
Even prosecutor Stacy Kollins suggested during her closing argument Thursday that the law perhaps used the wrong label to define a crime meant to protect minors from making poor decisions.
“We might be more successful on appeal,” Gurovich said. “We really need somebody to take a look at the law and understand the law itself, the way it is written, is overreaching.
“Eventually, I believe this particular statute has to be rewritten.”
After the jury delivered its verdict, Gurovich spoke briefly with Lofthouse’s wife, who quietly cried in the courtroom and declined to comment on the case.
One juror, who offered only her first name, Teresa, said she felt sympathy for all parties involved in the trial. Another, high school teacher Jerry Morris, said the jury only disagreed over whether to call Lofthouse’s action a kidnapping.
They decided on a guilty verdict “once we decided (the victim) had been enticed,” Lewis said.
Kollins had compared Lofthouse to someone in a van offering candy to a little girl.
She also offered her own interpretation of the jury’s decision.
“They explained this community’s disdain for teachers being involved with students in this manner,” Kollins told reporters.
“There’s been a lot of these cases recently, and this sends a message,” she added.
Lofthouse began communicating with the student in early 2015, while he was on family leave for the birth of his third child. The student later asked for his cellphone number, and they exchanged nearly 4,000 text messages, many of them sexual in nature.
The student-teacher contact turned physical about a week or two before the initial hotel visit. The girl would ditch class and spend time in Lofthouse’s classroom, where they often kissed and twice engaged in sex acts.
Lofthouse began his employment with the Clark County School District in 2010 and taught at Rancho since then. He officially resigned from his position in September, a district spokeswoman said.
For two counts of first-degree kidnapping, Lofthouse faces a sentence of five years to life in prison. The additional 10 charges of sexual conduct with a pupil each carry a one- to five-year prison sentence.
In Nevada, the age of consent is 16, but state law forbids sexual contact between students younger than 18 and certain school employees older than 21.
Lofthouse returns to court for sentencing May 17.
Review-Journal staff writer David Ferrara contributed to this report.Contact Neal Morton at email@example.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton