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Court hears evidence in Erfurth sexual abuse of a minor case

Sabine Poux

The former Soldotna teacher and union president charged with 61 counts related to sexual abuse of a minor appeared in court today for a hearing about evidence in the case.

Nathan Erfurth, who taught at Soldotna High School and worked as president of the area’s teachers union, was arrested in May 2023 on charges related to an alleged sexual relationship with a former student who was a minor at the time. Police obtained a warrant and secretly recorded several conversations between the student and Erfurth, which they say provided evidence of crimes. He was later charged with more than 60 counts by a grand jury.

Erfurth pleaded not guilty to all counts, and in January, his attorney Eric Derleth filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing cherry-picked evidence, a failure to tell the grand jury about the many times Erfurth denied the relationship and mistranscriptions of the recorded conversations. The state responded with 21 pages of mostly transcripts in its opposition to the motion, and said it had no obligation to present Erfuth’s “self-serving” denials to the grand jury.

Based on the content of those transcriptions, Derleth requested an evidentiary hearing to review those discrepancies, citing specific sentences where the state and defense’s transcriptions differ.

“It’s important for the court to hold an evidentiary hearing to assess which party is correct about the true nature of the entirety of the secret recordings and their potential impact on the [grand jury’s] decision to indict Mr. Erfurth,” he writes.

During the two-hour hearing Friday morning at the Kenai Courthouse, Derleth played several audio clips from the secret recordings that involved Erfurth denying he and the former student ever engaged in a sexual relationship.

Then, he addressed a line from the state’s transcription that he said has been critically misinterpreted. In the original affidavit, the student is quoted as asking Erfurth whether he “regretted sleeping with her” to which Erfurth said if the consequences are jail time, he absolutely does. But the defense argues that line is a mistranscription; what she actually asks, Derleth said, is “Are you starting to regret taking me in?” a reference to the close family-like relationship between them.

The audio quality of the recording is poor, because the primary recording device failed. Erfurth took the stand to testify that he was answering the question “Do you regret taking me in?” on the recording. Superior Court Judge Kelly Lawson also allowed Derleth to play a version of that audio clip that Erfurth cleaned up himself using computer software.

During cross examination, the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Julie Matucheski, asked if Erfurth was already aware that he was under investigation at the time of the recordings, which he said he was. The prosecutor did not concede that there were issues in the state’s transcriptions, and said Erfurth’s interpretation of the line was favorable to his case.

Derleth and the prosecutor both opted to submit written closing statements within the next two weeks. Erfurth’s next court appearance is a hearing scheduled for June.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.