Teacher gets 15 years for fondling students

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — A former suburban Kansas City elementary school teacher was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday for molesting 11 of his male students, most of them during class.

Matthew J. Nelson, who taught for 10 years at Prairie Branch Elementary School in Grain Valley, pleaded guilty last month to 15 counts of child molestation and statutory sodomy and one count of attempted child molestation.

He was sentenced to 15 years on each of the molestation counts and seven years on the attempted molestation count, all to run concurrently. The sentence was part of a plea bargain with prosecutors that a Jackson County circuit judge accepted.

Audience members applauded as Nelson was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

Mike Mansur, a spokesman for county prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, said the victims all were in Nelson’s second- and third-grade classes, and that the incidents happened between August 2008 and January 2012.

Nelson, 34, was charged in January 2012 after students told authorities he fondled them when they came to his desk asking for help with assignments, and during quiet reading and movie times.

Nelson was suspended from his teaching job Jan. 9, 2012, after Grain Valley school district officials were informed that a young boy had told his mother Nelson was “huggy” and had fondled him through his clothing during class.

Investigators said the 2007 local teacher of the year also fondled a student during a trip to a Kansas City Royals baseball game during the 2009-10 school year. A chaperone said she saw Nelson rubbing the inner thigh of one child and “acting as if he was on a date,” apparently unconcerned that someone saw him rubbing the boy’s leg, according to the probable cause statement.

After a hearing in March in which Nelson changed his plea to guilty, his attorney, J.R. Hobbs, said in a statement that Nelson “is remorseful for his unlawful and improper acts of touching and fondling certain students.”

Under Missouri law, a person can be guilty of first-degree statutory sodomy for fondling a child younger than 14 for the purpose of sexual gratification.

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