Lukis Nighswonger

Lukis Nighswonger

WASILLA — Former Iditarod teacher Lukis Nighswonger’s initial interviews with law enforcement were played between testimonies during an evidentiary hearing Thursday, July 23 at the Palmer Courthouse.

Nighswonger is charged with several counts of sexual abuse of a minor allegedly taking place at the school, and he was arraigned in September 28, 2018.

During his initial interviews with Palmer Police Department’s Kristine Mullenberg and Wasilla Police Department’s Daniel Bennett, Nighswonger made several statements indicating that he sexually abused his students, including comments where he called himself a “pedophile.”

Bennett’s first interview didn’t have any video but the second interview at WPD Sept. 24, 2018 at WPD had both audio and video which was played during the hearing.

During Bennett’s testimony, he said that Nighswonger seemed to be attempting to get himself arrested. Bennett was heard in the audio telling Nighswonger that he wasn’t going to be arrested that day, trying to go over options where he was gonna go that night, be it with family or in the hospital.

“Now if you say you’re going to hurt yourself, that changes the ball game, but you’re not going to jail. The hospital, I could put you under title 37, you talk to a therapist, you tell him, ‘hey I went to the cops today and talked about being a pedophile and that’s stressing me out,’” Bennett stated in the audio.

Bennett said that Nighswonger wasn’t going to get arrested that day but there would potentially be legal action down the road, but perhaps not as he may have expected.

“You can go home. Things need to be looked at critically,” Bennett said.

Bennett told Nighswonger the reality at that point was that he would likely be terminated as a teacher, and Nighswonger replied, “obviously.”

“You’re probably gonna get charged with this and sentenced to some degree. What that is and how long that’ll take is not gonna expedite. I can tell you that. So going to jail, that’s kind of maybe what you want as your own punishment, but that’s not how the system really works,” Bennett said.

Prior to Bennett’s interview at WPD, Nighswonger first spoke with Muilenburg at the Mat-Su School District Office, which recorded audio and video from the officer’s body cam.

Muilenburg stated that Nighswonger mentioned “skin to skin contact” and “what he did to a little girl” during their interview. During her testimony on Thursday, Muilenburg said that it was clear that Nighswonger was aware of the consequences of his statements.

“He was pretty descriptive in why he ended up where he was at, that’s wanting to speak with me that day,” Muilenburg said. “What he said was pretty profound as far as admitting to what he did to a little girl.”

Palmer Judge Jonathan Woodman indicated that he will decide which interviews will be admitted to the court as evidence as they’re both taken under advisement and he anticipates to have a prior to Nighswonger’s pretrial conference in September.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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