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Jury to decide if Las Vegas teen was a girl manipulated for sex or a young woman enjoying an affair

A former Rancho High School teacher emotionally manipulated, groomed and essentially kidnapped a 17-year-old student to have sex with her, prosecutors told a Clark County District Court jury on Thursday.

As they wrapped up their case, attorneys for the state argued that even if the student believed she consented to the relationship, Jason Lofthouse cannot rely on that as a defense against kidnapping and sexual misconduct charges.

The 33-year-old faces 10 felony counts of sexual conduct between a school employee and student, which his attorneys do not dispute. They do challenge the state’s application of a kidnapping statute to prove Lofthouse enticed the student, now 18, to visit area hotels with him twice during school hours.

The girl also performed sex acts on Lofthouse in his classroom over a period of several weeks last spring, and they exchanged nearly 4,000 text messages, many of them sexual in nature.

“At 17, the flattery and the attention and the wooing and the sexual experience and the excitement of a sexual tryst with your teacher and a hotel getaway — those are all things that are appealing and arousing and tempting,” prosecutor Stacy Kollins said in her closing argument. “And that is what enticed her.

“It’s the same (as) pulling up in a van and saying, ‘Do you want some candy, little girl?’”

Defense attorney Dmitry Gurovich countered that depiction of Lofthouse and the student’s relationship.

The student testified earlier that she voluntarily had sex with her social studies teacher and never felt trapped or coerced. In text messages she told Lofthouse that she liked him, missed him and was aroused by him.

“Is this a person that’s being enticed into something?” Gurovich asked the jury. “I think this is mutual. This is mutual attraction. They like each other.

“Whether it’s right or wrong, whether we like it or not, we cannot characterize this as enticement. It just is not,” he added.

Lofthouse, who is married with three children, did not testify during the brief trial.

In Nevada, the age of consent is 16, but state law forbids sexual contact between students younger than 18 and certain school employees older than 21.

If convicted, Lofthouse faces a one- to five-year prison sentence for each of the sexual conduct charges. The two additional counts of first-degree kidnapping carry a sentence of five years to life in prison.

Rancho principal James Kuzma and an investigator with the Clark County School District police department testified earlier Thursday.

Kuzma said Lofthouse had requested and received a voluntary transfer to teach at Desert Oasis High School in fall 2015. But about the time his relationship started with the student, Lofthouse asked to withdraw that request, “rather emotionally,” Kuzma testified.

Lofthouse began his employment with the Clark County School District in 2010 and taught at Rancho until his arrest in June. He officially resigned in September, a district spokeswoman said.

As their final piece of evidence, prosecutors showed jurors video surveillance footage of Lofthouse and the student entering an elevator together and kissing at a North Las Vegas hotel.

But defense attorney Gurovich urged jurors to recall that same footage as they weigh a verdict.

“She’s smiling. She’s laughing. She looks carefree. She’s kissing him. She gets on her tippy-toes three or four times,” he said. “Does that look like someone who was kidnapped?”

Contact Neal Morton at nmorton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton

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