- Associated Press - Saturday, December 1, 2012

MANKATO, MINN. (AP) - A Minnesota football coach sidelined by accusations of child pornography involving his own children reacted with relief Friday after a judge dismissed the case, saying he was “thankful to be waking up from this nightmare.”

Todd Hoffner, the head coach at Minnesota State-Mankato, was effectively cleared when a judge agreed with his assertion that innocent family videos had been misinterpreted. He had been escorted off a football practice field and arrested in August after a university employee came across cellphone videos of his children dancing and playing naked.

“My wife and I have anticipated this day for a very long time,” Hoffner said in a news conference at his attorneys’ offices. “It has finally taken a person with courage and authority to realize what these videos were.”

Hoffner said he wanted to return to work as soon as possible. The university said he will remain on administrative leave until its own investigation is complete. Hoffner has been on leave since the videos were discovered on his university-issued cellphone in August and turned over to police.

Hoffner testified earlier that his three young children asked him to videotape a skit they had concocted after taking a bubble bath. His wife, Melodee, has defended him, as have supporters who held candlelight vigils on his behalf.

A search of his home computer found no evidence of child porn, and social workers found no evidence that the couple’s children had been abused.

In her ruling released Friday, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass said she didn’t find any evidence that the videos amounted to pornography.

“The videos under consideration here contain nude images of Defendant’s minor children dancing and acting playful after a bath. That is all they contain,” Jass wrote in her 24-page ruling dismissing the charges.

Hoffner’s attorney, Jim Fleming, singled out assistant county prosecutor Mike Hanson for bringing charges in the first place, saying “Hanson essentially argued that this was child pornography because he knows it when he sees it.”

Hanson said in a statement that his office didn’t agree with the dismissal but accepted it.

“Our office was trying to enforce a statute enacted to protect children,” he said. “No matter what the prosecutor does in a controversial case with a high-profile suspect, they will be criticized. We do not go looking for cases like this, they are brought to us.”

University spokesman Dan Benson said he had no timetable for when the school’s investigation would be completed.

Hoffner, 46, of Eagle Lake, had been charged with one count of using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and one count of possessing child pornography. Both are felonies.

He has been sidelined for what has turned into an outstanding season for the Mavericks. They are 12-0 and host Missouri Western on Saturday in the national Division II quarterfinals.

The circumstances of the case, close on the heels of the Penn State scandal involving sexually abused children and authority figures who didn’t intervene, invited questions about whether the university had overreacted to the videos.

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