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December 18, 2014

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Mother, daughter take the stand in kindergarten teacher’s kidnapping hearing

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L.E. Baskow

Melvyn Sprowson looks to his defense attorney John Momot as he presents an argument for him during a preliminary hearing on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.

Melvyn Sprowson In Court

Defense attorney John Momot presents an argument for Melvyn Sprowson looking down during a preliminary hearing on Monday,  Dec. 9, 2013. Launch slideshow »

A Henderson mother broke down on the witness stand Monday as she recalled her nine weeks of anguish looking for her 16-year-old daughter, who went missing three days into the school year.

The high school sophomore ran away from home in late August to live with Melvyn Sprowson, a 45-year-old kindergarten teacher now accused of kidnapping her and producing child pornography of her. The two apparently shared a romantic relationship, which started online and ended up with the girl dropping out of school and Sprowson landing in jail.

Prosecutors allege the Clark County teacher took the teen without her mother’s consent, harbored the girl for two months, supplied her with alcohol and gave her a sexually transmitted disease before Clark County School District police discovered the missing and truant girl at his apartment in November.

Choking back sobs, the mother recalled how her daughter was a straight-A student at a top magnet school and a hardworking hostess at a local breakfast joint before she met and fell in love with Sprowson. Although the girl was eventually found, the daughter she knew before never came home, the mother said.

“She was an A student. She had a job. She had everything going for her,” the mother said, choking back sobs. “And then she comes back and says she’s going to go get a GED and do what? Get married (to him)?”

The mother and the girl testified through tears during a five-hour preliminary hearing before Las Vegas Township Judge William Kephart on Monday. Both of their names are being withheld to shield the identity of the minor, who is now undergoing intensive counseling. Kephart is expected to hear closing arguments on Jan. 6 and decide whether the case goes to trial.

Wearing her brown hair up in a tight bun, the girl began crying the moment she sat on the witness stand. Court marshals used two reams of printer paper to elevate a court microphone closer to the 5-foot-4-inch girl, whose soft voice didn’t carry across the small courtroom.

As Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacqueline Bluth and Sprowson’s attorney John Momot peppered her with a barrage of questions, more details about the girl’s relationship with the first-year Clark County teacher surfaced. Throughout her testimony, Sprowson — dressed in a blue jumpsuit and shackles — stared back at the girl, who wore a navy blue and white-striped sweater.

Between sniffles, the girl recounted how she met Sprowson on Craigslist. The former Los Angeles schoolteacher had recently moved to Las Vegas and posted an online advertisement — titled “Lonely millionaire.” The girl responded with a simple “Hello.”

What started as emails through Craigslist soon progressed into messages through Kik, a free instant messenger application for smartphones. It was on Kik that the girl began texting semi-nude and nude photos of herself to Sprowson, sometimes at his request. Sprowson told the girl he wanted her to send him “sexy pictures,” she said.

When asked why she began sexting with Sprowson, the girl responded: “I was in love with him. He wanted me to and I wanted to.

“It wasn’t like he was forcing me to do them,” she added.

•••

At the start of their online relationship, Sprowson told the girl he was 34 years old. Only later did she find out that Sprowson was 28 years her senior. The girl maintains that Sprowson knew she was 16 from the beginning.

Their age difference didn’t seem to faze the girl, who had dated older men in the past. In August, she agreed to be Sprowson’s “girlfriend.”

The two met for the first time at her workplace, a local breakfast restaurant, and had their “first date” at a roller-skating rink. Eventually, they ended up sleeping together during a two-night stay at Sprowson’s apartment, located near the girl’s house in Henderson.

Sprowson didn’t use a condom, the girl testified. “He told me he couldn’t have kids,” she said.

Throughout their online and offline relationship, the girl never told her mother about Sprowson. “She wouldn’t be happy at all,” the girl testified.

The two took precautions to keep their relationship a secret. Sprowson and the girl only talked on the phone or video-chatted when her mother wasn’t around. The girl also said she lied to her mother and friends about meeting Sprowson.

Soon, Sprowson and the girl came up with a plan: “I was going to stick it out until I was 17 and a half, was going to get married and I was going to go to school,” she said. Sprowson gave the girl a diamond ring — a symbol of their pact “to be together,” the girl said.

The girl wore the ring around her neck. Her mother, who said she was becoming suspicious about her daughter’s online activities, saw the ring and demanded to know where she got it.

The girl said she lied to her mother, telling her she found it in front of a local Target store. When pressed, the girl lied again and told her mother some boy gave it to her.

“She didn’t believe any of the lies,” the girl said of her mother. “She added things up.”

The mother requested her daughter’s phone records, which confirmed her suspicions that she was having a secret relationship. When her daughter wouldn’t tell her the truth about Sprowson, the mother took away the girl’s smartphone, computer and sold the promise ring.

“She took everything I had,” the girl said, sobbing.

•••

The mother-daughter relationship, which was already rocky, quickly deteriorated, the girl said. When her mother became “too controlling,” the girl begged “Mel” to come pick her up, because otherwise, “I wouldn’t be able to be with him,” the girl said.

It wasn’t that she hated her mother and didn’t want to live with her anymore, she said, but rather she wanted to live with Sprowson more — to the point she threatened to commit suicide if she couldn’t get her way.

“If you don’t come get me, I’m going to kill myself,” the girl said she told Sprowson. “Either he picked me up, or I would die that night.”

In the middle of the night on Aug. 28, the girl sneaked out the front door of her house. Sprowson picked her up and they went back to his apartment. He also changed his cellphone number to evade the girl’s mother.

Upon awaking to find her daughter missing, the mother immediately called the Clark County School District and the Henderson Police Department. The mother also hired private investigators, enlisted the help of several missing children’s organizations and went on social media to bring attention to her missing daughter.

“I thought my daughter was picked up by a human trafficker,” the mother said. “I was really freaking out.”

•••

Meanwhile, the girl was at Sprowson’s apartment, where she watched TV, played games and read books while he taught kindergartners at Wengert Elementary School. The girl decided not to return to high school because she didn’t want to be discovered living at Sprowson’s apartment.

“(Sprowson) felt really bad all the time (that I wasn’t going to school),” the girl said. “He’s not a bad person.”

Sprowson had a couple of rules around his apartment: No guys and don’t go outside. He had the girl wear a hat, sunglasses and baggier clothes whenever they went outside, such as on drives out to Lake Mead. The girl said she viewed Sprowson almost as a father.

There were instances when the two got into an argument, the girl said. Sprowson told the girl he didn’t care for her singing, became aggravated by her writing and would become jealous at times, she said. “He thought I was cheating on him” and threatened to take her home, she said.

Twice, Sprowson gave the girl alcohol to drink at his apartment, the girl said. Once when she was woozy from alcohol, the two had sex, she said. They had sex about once a week, she said.

Throughout her two months living with Sprowson, the girl said she didn’t feel like he mistreated her. She even wrote a story describing Sprowson as her “Prince Charming,” and she as his “princess.”

The girl added that she never felt she couldn’t leave Sprowson. In fact, Sprowson wanted her “to do it the right way” — which meant getting emancipated first before moving in with her. Their “plan” was for her to get emancipated, get her GED and go to college and for them to live together.

“In a perfect scenario, my mom would have done the right thing, but she can’t accept that,” the girl said.

“I’m here to protect my children,” the mother said in her testimony. “Something like that is not OK with me.”

•••

For more than a month, the mother tried unsuccessfully to find her daughter though Henderson Police. Exasperated, she said she turned to private investigators, outside organizations and the Clark County School District Police Department.

Culling together information already gathered by Henderson and private detectives, School District officer Gary Abbott used the district’s employee database to find Sprowson’s current address. On Nov. 1, Abbott said he visited Sprowson’s school and then his apartment complex, where a building manager had a maintenance worker check on an apparently malfunctioning smoke detector in Sprowson’s unit. The worker found the girl, and reported it to Abbott.

The girl was returned home, where she told her mother she would try to return to Sprowson. The mother said she slept in front of her daughter’s door so she couldn’t escape. Once, in an attempt to escape, the girl tried to jump off a second-floor balcony inside their home.

The girl said she wanted to commit suicide, but admitted she wouldn’t have died from jumping off the balcony. She was in love with “Mel” and just wanted to be with him, she declared.

Her mother saw it differently.

“She’d rather die than live with me,” the mother said, tearing up.

The girl, who has been treated at hospitals, is currently undergoing treatment at an institution. She maintained she never wanted to get Sprowson into trouble.

Hearing that, Sprowson — who remained stoic throughout the proceedings — bowed his head, took a tissue and dabbed it to his eyes.

•••

Melvyn Perry Sprowson Jr., who began working for Clark County in August, resigned as a fifth-grade teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District in January. During his nearly decade-long tenure in California, Sprowson faced allegations of sexual abuse involving female students in fourth and fifth grade. Sprowson was investigated but never charged and did not lose his teaching license.

In Clark County, Sprowson is charged with first-degree kidnapping, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, giving a false statement to the police and five counts of unlawful use of a minor over 14 in production of pornography.

Sprowson is no longer employed by the Clark County School District. He remains in Clark County Detention Center on a $650,000 bail.

If his case goes to trial and he is convicted, Sprowson could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Although a 16-year-old can consent to sex, it is illegal to keep a minor from his or her parents, even if the minor consents, according to Nevada law.

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