Kirchoefer pleads guilty to pornography charges

Deb Moldaschel
Neil Kirchoefer

On Aug. 10, Neil Kirchoefer, a former teacher at St. Mary’s High School who currently resides in Eden Prairie, pleaded guilty to felony pornography charges, that stemmed from images found in November 2018 on a computer he used at the school.

Kirchoefer was arrested and charged on Feb. 8, 2019. The case has been in Brown County District Court since then, with a number of hearings scheduled, held and/or canceled in the year and a half since he was charged. Before Monday’s plea hearing, the most recent court action was the cancellation of a jury trial which had been scheduled to begin on July 22, 2020.

On Monday, Aug. 10, in a court hearing held by electronic means, Kirchoefer pleaded guilty to three felony charges: 1. Use Minors in Sexual Performance/ Pornographic Work; 2. Use of Minor in Pornographic Work; and 3. Possession of Pornographic Work involving Minors.

As part of the plea agreement, five additional felony charges of Possession of Pornographic Work involving Minors, and two felony charges of Disseminate Pornographic Work, were dismissed. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the State of Minnesota had also agreed not to charge Kirchoefer if he should plead guilty in the Brown County Court case, as “the federal interest would be vindicated.”

The first two felony counts have a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years, and the third count has a statutory maximum of five years. Daniel Kalk, Assistant Brown County Attorney, who handled this case, explained that defendants rarely get the maximum sentence, but are sentenced according to where they fall within a sentencing grid in relation to the severity of the crime and the criminal history score of the defendant.

In Kirchoefer’s case, Kalk said, “the parties have agreed to a sentence of 54 months in prison, subject to approval by the court.”

Before accepting Kirchoefer’s guilty plea on Monday, Judge Robert Docherty asked him a long list of questions to ascertain that he understood the charges and agreed that he had committed the crimes as described.

Judge Docherty scheduled sentencing for Monday, Oct. 5 at 9:15 a.m. He also ordered a psychosexual evaluation of Kirchoefer and a presentence investigation.

The charges against Kirchoefer came about after the Sleepy Eye Police Department was contacted by St. Mary’s School Administration on Nov. 28, 2018, to report that a teacher informed Administration that possible child pornography was viewed on one of the school’s laptop computers, which was given to teacher Neil Kirchoefer by St. Mary’s School for school use.

That day the Sleepy Eye Police Department conducted an investigation that included interviews with the teacher who saw the suspected pornographic image and Kirchoefer; a search warrant was completed on Kirchoefer’s residence in Sleepy Eye that resulted in the seizure of a cell phone and an additional laptop computer. St. Mary’s school also turned over two additional electronic devices that Kirchoefer used while working.

With assistance by the Brown County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the electronic devices were analyzed. On Feb. 7, 2019, the Sleepy Eye Police Department received the computer analysis from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office through the Brown County Sheriff’s Investigator. Based on the information in the report and in consultation with the Brown County Sheriff’s Investigator and the Brown County Attorney’s Office, Kirchoefer was arrested and placed in the Brown County Jail the morning of Feb. 8.

St. Mary’s School had placed Kirchoefer on unpaid leave immediately after the allegations surfaced in late November and was not allowed access to the school. He resigned shortly after that.