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Teen defends kindergarten teacher accused of kidnapping, exploiting her

She was a lovesick teenager when she ran away from her mother’s home in the middle of the night to be with Melvyn Sprowson.

Five months later, she still is.

The girl, 16, tearfully declared her continued love for Sprowson, 45, during two hours of testimony Monday. Sprowson, a former kindergarten teacher, watched from the defendant’s table. He was dressed in navy blue jail scrubs and his arms and legs were shackled.

He faces charges including first-degree kidnapping and unlawful use of a minor in production of pornography, and could face five life prison terms if convicted.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace William Kephart heard testimony from the girl, her mother and three Clark County School District police officers. He will rule next week whether county prosecutors have enough evidence to take the case to trial.

The Review-Journal generally does not publish the names of sexual assault victims or minors involved in sex crimes.

The girl cried nonstop for the first hour of her testimony, repeatedly saying she willingly went to live with Sprowson, a former Wengert Elementary School teacher, and “he didn’t force me” to send semi-nude photographs. Yes, he wanted the pictures, but she wanted him to have them, she told the judge.

She ran away from her Henderson home Aug. 28 after her mother took away her laptop and cellphone, concerned the girl was engaged in a suspicious relationship. The girl had had intimate relationships with older men before.

“I begged him to come pick me up,” the girl said. She told Sprowson she would kill herself if he did not.

For nine weeks the two lived together and planned for a life together after she emancipated herself from her mother. She and Sprowson would marry. She would get her GED and continue her schooling.

She wrote a story describing Sprowson as a Prince Charming who rescued her, a princess.

The girl, who was an A student, researched the law with Sprowson in an effort to make sure he couldn’t get in trouble for their relationship.

They were intimate while they lived together, the girl said. Occasionally Sprowson had fits of jealousy and told her to leave, only to cry afterwards, tell her he loved her and ask her to stay.

She said she ran away from her mother because she was too controlling. Her mother wouldn’t let her watch what she wanted or drink what she wanted.

After she was discovered Nov. 1 and returned home, the girl tried to jump from the second floor of her mother’s home to escape. She described the jump as a suicide attempt, though she recognized she wouldn’t have died.

The girl has been in and out of mental health institutions since, and is now living in an institution outside Las Vegas.

But she may not have been found at all if it wasn’t for her mother’s efforts and an encounter with a Clark County School District police officer.

The Henderson Police Department had done little to find the girl, her mother testified.

She became fed up with inaction by Henderson police — who assigned to the case a retired volunteer working 10 hours a week — and hired private investigators.

She and the investigators quickly surmised Sprowson had contacted her daughter repeatedly before her disappearance. They found where he lived, worked and other details that they passed on to Henderson police.

Yet nothing was done, the mother said.

Henderson police did speak once with Sprowson early in the investigation.

The mother feared the worst. Her daughter might be dead or a victim of human trafficking.

“I was really freaking out,” she said.

The mother continued checking with officials, spreading word through social media and passing out flyers. School District Officer Gary Abbott overheard her talking to a school counselor in late October.

Abbott gathered information from the private investigators and began looking into Sprowson.

Two days later Abbott found the girl at Sprowson’s residence.

“Thank God for the school police,” the mother said.

During cross-examination of the witnesses, defense lawyer John Momot emphasized that the girl willingly went to live with Sprowson.

Kephart also heard about two trysts the girl had with older men two years earlier. One of the men, David Schlomann, 41, is awaiting sentencing Jan. 30 after pleading guilty to attempted sexual assault and luring children with use of technology with intent to engage in sexual conduct.

The girl testified the other man was 19 and was not charged. She was 14 at the time of that relationship and believes the only reason Sprowson is in trouble now is because he’s a teacher.

Prosecutor Jacqueline Bluth told Kephart she was unaware of allegations involving a 19-year-old.

Momot also questioned school police tactics in obtaining evidence and a search warrant used to discover the semi-nude photographs.

Abott testified during cross-examination that officials learned the girl was in Sprowson’s apartment when the manager of the property sent a maintenance worker to check on a possible malfunctioning smoke detector.

The maintenance worker reported he found the girl, but said nothing of the smoke detector.

Kephart said he would hear closing arguments Jan. 6.

Sprowson has faced accusations of sexually abusing minors before. He resigned under pressure from the Los Angeles Unified School District in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse from 2007 involving fourth- and fifth-grade students. He was investigated but never criminally charged. Sprowson remains in Clark County Detention Center on $650,000 bail.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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