- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

FLORENCE, Ariz. (AP) - A Pinal County man once accused of sexually assaulting numerous girls at his high school has been sentenced to three years in prison on convictions for felony charges.

Tyler Kost’s attorney said after Friday’s sentencing that time already served and other credits mean the 20-year-old from San Tan Valley could be released immediately. In addition to the prison term, the sentence included 15 years of probation.

Kost asked for leniency in court on Friday. “I’m so sorry for the pain I caused,” he said.

A prosecutor read letters from victims who described being traumatized after their assaults. One girl said she still gets nightmares and was so depressed she harmed herself physically.

Kost was 18 when he was arrested in 2014 for sexual crimes against 13 girls, most of whom were former classmates at Poston Butte High School.

But the case took a dramatic turn when defense lawyers contended that social media accounts of the accusers proved some of the girls lied about the assaults and conspired against Kost. They found a group Facebook chat where three of the accusers and three witnesses made plans to “teach a lesson” to Kost and referred to the movie “John Tucker Must Die,” where ex-girlfriends take revenge on a former boyfriend. The exchange happened weeks before the women accused Kost of sexual assault.

The defense allegations set in motion an extensive effort and court fight to retrieve tens of thousands of pages of records from Facebook and Instagram showing the communications between the girls.

But Kost ended up pleading guilty last month to six felony charges, including three counts each of attempted sexual conduct with a minor and child abuse.

“I know I made some serious mistakes, and I want you to know that I accept responsibility for what I did. I’m so sorry for the pain I’ve caused everyone. I’ve spent most of the last three years in jail thinking about what happened and the damage I’ve done,” Kost said.

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