- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A former North Dakota teacher of the year is due to stand trial on charges alleging he had a sexual relationship with an underage student several years ago.

Aaron Knodel, a 36-year-old West Fargo High School teacher who was named the 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year before the allegations surfaced, has pleaded not guilty to five counts of corruption of solicitation of a minor, which is a felony.

According to prosecutors, Knodel engaged in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student over a period of several weeks in early 2009. The former student told investigators that Knodel began texting her during the 2008 Christmas break, and that the texts eventually became more personal and sexually suggestive. They say the two engaged in sexual acts in a classroom, at Knodel’s home and in the student’s car.

Among the evidence that prosecutors are expected to present are phone records showing that from Jan. 1 to March 9, 2009 - the day they say Knodel ended the relationship - there were 85 phone calls between Knodel and the girl that ranged in length from a minute to four hours. There were no calls after that date.

Knodel, who was placed on unpaid suspension when he was charged, denies wrongdoing. After he was charged, defense attorney Robert Hoy said Knodel had passed a lie detector test and that Knodel would be vindicated at his trial, which is scheduled to start Tuesday with jury selection.

“I don’t know why such allegations would arise now, but the passage of time makes it much more difficult for Aaron to defend himself,” Hoy said last August. “So, until we can have an opportunity to present this case to a jury, I ask that prospective jurors keep an open mind and reserve judgment, despite the salacious allegations that have been made.

“There are always two sides to every story,” said Hoy, who declined to comment about the case in the run-up to the trial.

Judge Steven McCullough recently granted the defense access to some of the former student’s medical records, which Hoy said may reflect on her credibility and character.

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