Published October 25. 2012 12:00PM Updated October 26. 2012 12:19AM
A New London jury has found former Norwich patrolman Kenneth Nieves not guilty of having a sexual relationship with an underage girl.
The jury of four women and two men deliberated for about four hours before reaching its verdict at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. Upon hearing the jury foreman say Nieves was not guilty on all three counts of risk of injury to a minor, Judge Arthur C. Hadden dismissed the case.
Nieves, 45, hugged his son and daughter, who had listened to parts of the trial. In the past year, he has lost his job as a police officer, been divorced from his wife of more than 20 years and been arrested.
Asked what he would do with the rest of his life, Nieves said his life is “ruined.”
“Really, nobody won,” he said.
In taking his case to trial, Nieves had rejected the state’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for a year-long prison sentence followed by 10 years of strict probation and registration as a sexual offender. Had he been convicted at trial, he would have faced a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the three counts of risk of injury to a minor.
The alleged victim, now a 23-year-old police officer, had testified that she began a years-long sexual relationship with Nieves when she was 14 or 15 years old. She could not pinpoint the date when the affair started. Nieves testified that they began having sex six days after the girl turned 16, which is the age of consent.
During jury selection, defense attorney Charles Tiernan III had divulged his strategy to prospective jurors by asking what they thought about a 38-year-old man having sex with a 16-year-old girl.
“They followed the judge’s instruction and did what they were supposed to do,” Tiernan said after the verdict was announced. “He indicated from the get-go that she was 16. As uncomfortable as people are with that, it’s not illegal.”
Prosecutor Theresa Anne Ferryman had argued that Nieves’ ability to pinpoint the exact date of the first sexual encounter seemed contrived.
“The jury was attentive and fulfilled its obligation,” she said after the judge dismissed the case. “The state, as always, respects the verdict.”
Nieves, a Norwich patrolman from 2002 to 2011, admitted on the witness stand that he sometimes had sex with the girl in his police cruiser. He said he would pick her up from her workplace during his lunch or dinner breaks.
The girl testified that she viewed Nieves, a friend of her family, as a father figure until their relationship turned sexual. Her own father was not in her life, she said, and Nieves accompanied her to her school’s father-daughter dance. She said she broke off the affair when she was 18 and realized it was inappropriate.
Nieves testified that he had an emotional bond with the girl. He said he told the girl he loved her, helped her move and gave her gifts, including a washer and dryer for her new home.
Nieves resigned from the police department in September 2011 after being placed on paid administrative leave while his superiors investigated allegations that he was having sex with women while on duty.
The police contacted the alleged victim during the investigation. She said she was reluctant to provide a written statement in the case but did not want any other minors to be victimized.