A former Scottsdale Chaparral High School science teacher will spend two months in jail and be on probation the rest of his life for having a sexual relationship with a female student nearly 25 years ago.
Judge Paul McMurdie of Maricopa County Superior Court said Friday he would have sent Paul M. Knutson, 59, to prison for up to three years if the offense had happened now, but he gave the teacher credit for living an exemplary life since the crimes happened.
Knutson had taught physics at Rogers High School in Arkansas since 1995, and had never had any complaints against him there, according to school district officials. He also was once a finalist for National Teacher of the Year, but no longer will be able to teach as part of the plea deal. Knutson was indicted on 13 counts of sexual and drug-related counts in September but entered into a plea agreement in May by pleading guilty to three counts of sexual conduct with a minor. He could have faced up to three years in prison for the felony offenses, but under the agreement, will have to pay a $5,000 fine, will be required to register as a sex offender and can no longer drink alcohol. Knutson will start serving his jail sentence on Nov. 1, and will have to do 400 hours of community service. Knutson was arrested Aug. 31 in Arkansas after the woman came forward with the accusations in 2006.
"I made a grave mistake several years ago and I am willing to accept whatever sentence is given to me," Knutson said before sentencing in court. He was present with his wife.
Knutson taught at Chaparral from 1973 to 1984 and pleaded guilty to having sex with the student who was 16 and 17 from Jan. 1, 1984 through April 22, 1985. The pair had sex in a storage area for a classroom science lab and at his home in Fountain Hills, according to court documents. Knutson's wife at the time divorced him because he said he was in love with the girl and didn't want to leave her, according to court records. He also resigned from his teaching job at Chaparral in 1984 for then-unknown reasons.
Knutson's accuser told police she decided to come forward after nearly 25 years because she is a drug addict and in counseling for her substance abuse problem. The woman also accused Knutson of introducing her to drugs. However, Jeanine Sorrentino, a deputy prosecuting attorney for Maricopa County, said the prosecution did not pursue the drug charges because of the long time lapse of the accusations and no lab work to prove it. The woman filed a lawsuit against Knutson, the Scottsdale Unified School District and Evelyn Caskey, the former Chaparral principal, in February claiming negligence, and he was served with it Friday in court, Knutson's attorney Rick Lougee said.
Lougee said he believed the sentence was fair, and blamed the woman's downturn in life and two bankruptcies for wanting to build a case against Knutson so she could sue the school district.
"She got what she wanted," Lougee said.
In Knutson's case, he said, "People can sin, but we have to accept the fact that redemption and self-resurrection can occur."