A former culinary arts school teacher, Nichole Noel Thiel, was accused by her former student of having sex with him when he was 16 years old at her condominium in Idaho for a period lasting over two years. Thiel was 46 years old when the incidents allegedly took place.
The teen said it all started when he came across the teacher crying and upset and he gave her a hug. He said that she kissed him on the cheek and later he claimed she picked him up from his father’s home to take him back to her Coeur d’Alene home to have sex. He wouldn’t report the incident to his school counselor until the following year.
Thiel maintained her innocence throughout the investigation and trial. Due to the time that had passed, investigators were not able to find any physical evidence of the crime, so prosecutors were forced to rely almost entirely upon the testimony of witnesses. Throughout the trial, Thiel relied upon the support of her friends, colleagues, and family. From others, opinions of Thiel were harsh. Allegations of adults having sex with minors creates a sense of disgust, hysteria, and drives a “guilty-until-proven-innocent” rush to judgement from many in the community. Simply being arrested for a crime is often enough to convince people of guilt. Throughout the trial, criminal defense attorney Michael G. Palmer fought for Thiel’s innocence and realized she was faced with a teen who said that the sex happened and the only way to be acquitted was to somehow prove it didn’t.
Everything hung in the balance. Thiel had spent $90,000 obtaining her teaching credentials and at the time of her arrest was a vice principal and athletic director at the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy. When the investigation began, Thiel was placed on administrative leave and was compelled to hire a criminal defense attorney to help protect her employment, her credibility, and her livelihood, all while the accusing teen faced no risk. Palmer argued that the teen had nothing to lose, while Thiel stood to lose everything.
During the trial, revelations of the teen’s disciplinary and credibility problems came to light. It was also revealed that the teen’s mother had filed a lawsuit against the school for damages, and stood to gain financially if Thiel were found guilty of the sex crime.
Highlighting the issue of credibility, the teen testified that he had stepped out onto her balcony where he smoked a cigarette after they allegedly had sex. Later, it was revealed that Thiel’s balcony was actually a decorative imitation balcony, and he would not have been physically able to step out onto it, as he claimed.
After the 7-woman and 5-man jury went into deliberations, they took only an hour to reach a not-guilty verdict.
Prosecutor Louis Marshall said he was disappointed with the verdict. “Parents in our community have a right to know our teachers are keeping appropriate boundaries with the students. Teachers who cross that line will be prosecuted,” he said. Defense attorney Palmer was grateful for the verdict and the jury’s service.
For Thiel, a conviction would have ruined her life. The felony conviction of sexual battery would have carried a penalty of up to life in prison. She would also have had to register as a lifetime sex offender. Even in acquittal, however, Thiel’s life has been badly damaged. The media spotlight has taken its toll, public opinion remains difficult to change, and old news stories that are largely biased remain online to darken her opportunities. “BAD TEACHER: SEX starved cookery teacher, 46, slept with her teen pupil after giving him a comfort hug in class” is one headline by a UK news site published months ago that will remain online for years to come.
If you or a loved one is charged with sexual battery, contact Irvine Criminal Attorney Staycie R. Sena at (949) 477-8088 for a consultation now.