Published October 23. 2012 4:00PM Updated October 23. 2012 11:55PM
Former Norwich patrolman Kenneth Nieves testified at his trial Tuesday that he began a sexual relationship with a young friend of the family six days after her 16th birthday.
With his own college-aged daughter watching from the gallery, Nieves testified in a soft voice about an affair that he said began when he went to pick up the alleged victim from her job at a local veterinarian hospital and went on for the next three years.
Nieves explained that the girl's mother worked a lot and was unwell, so he was helping out by picking up the daughter. He said he was waiting for her to finish work when the girl, who had been having problems at home and was emotional, walked by a stainless steel examining table and placed her hand on his shoulder. Nieves said he reached around to hug her, and they stayed that way for a few minutes before they began their first sexual encounter.
"Morally, I know it was wrong," he said. "The emotions … I cared for her. She cared for me."
Nieves pinpointed the date of that encounter as Feb. 6, 2005. The alleged victim had turned 16 at the end of January. At the time, he was a 38-year-old police officer, married with two children.
Now 45, Nieves is no longer with the police department and is divorced. He is on trial for three counts of risk of injury to a minor, having rejected a plea offer that included a year in prison, 10 years of probation and registry as a sexual offender. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison for each count of risk of injury.
Earlier this month, prosecutor Theresa Anne Ferryman removed the sexual assault charges as she prepared the case for trial because the statute of limitations for that specific charge expires after five years.
The Norwich police were investigating allegations that Nieves was having sexual encounters with other women while on duty when they learned about the alleged victim. Now a 23-year-old police officer herself, she testified Monday that she was reluctant to disclose the relationship because she didn't want to be labeled a victim. She also said Nieves told her that if she let anyone know about the affair, he would lose his job and go to jail.
Defense attorney Charles Tiernan III had laid out his trial strategy during the voir dire process, asking prospective jurors how they felt about a 38-year-old man having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl. Nieves claims the girl was old enough to consent to sex. Unlike Nieves, the victim could not to pinpoint the date when they began having sex but said it was in late 2003 or early 2004, when she was 14 or 15.
In the courtroom Monday, Tiernan led Nieves through his testimony about the relationship that Nieves said involved two or three encounters a week and ended in January 2008. Nieves admitted they had sex at the vet hospital, in his police cruiser while on lunch and dinner breaks and in his personal car. On one occasion, he said they had sex at his family's home.
Ferryman asked Nieves on cross-examination if he had been watching the calendar as the girl approached the age of consent. Nieves said he knew her 16th birthday was approaching because his son had been teasing her about getting her learner's permit.
"And your testimony is that six, six days after a young woman turned 16, you begin a torrid sexual affair with her?" Ferryman asked.
"Yes, ma'am," Nieves replied.
Ferryman asked Nieves if it was fair to say he has been untruthful in important matters in his life, including his marriage, children and job. He admitted he had been untruthful to his wife and that having sex in the cruiser was "probably wrong," but said that while he was on his lunch break, he was on his own time.
"And you come here today wanting us to believe you on this matter of age?" Ferryman asked
"Yes," Nieves replied.
The defense also called Nieves' ex-wife, Andrea Nieves, to the witness stand Tuesday. She testified that she left Nieves in July 2011, divorced him in May 2012 and now lives in Pennsylvania. She said her reasons for divorcing Nieves had "nothing to do with" her husband's sexual relationship with the alleged victim. She said she never saw Nieves behave inappropriately with the girl, who often slept over at the Nieves' home.
From her perspective, the girl was the aggressor.
"She was persistent with him," Andrea Nieves said. "She called him often. She followed him around the house. She wanted his attention."
Sometime in 2004, she said the girl tried to sit on Nieves' lap in their living room and Kenneth Nieves "told her not to."
Later, she told Nieves it was inappropriate and he said, "You're right," she testified.
The defense rested its case Tuesday.
The trial resumes today, when the state plans to call one witness to rebut Nieves' testimony. The six-member jury will begin deliberating after the attorneys deliver closing arguments and Judge Arthur C. Hadden instructs the panel on the law.