Minn. football coach says videos innocent

Published 8:46 am Thursday, November 1, 2012

MANKATO — A Minnesota football coach accused of making pornographic videos of his children told a judge Wednesday that the images merely show a skit that his children came up with while in the bathtub and asked him to record.

Minnesota State, Mankato, head coach Todd Hoffner’s testimony as he asked a judge to dismiss the felony charges against him were his first public comments since he was escorted off a practice field in August, shortly after the university found the images on his work-issued cellphone. Hoffner has been on leave since then.

Hoffner, 46, of Eagle Lake, testified that he had told his three children to go take a bubble bath last June so he could get some work done. Hoffner said the children later came down in towels and asked him to videotape them. He said he never directed the kids, and never watched the video afterward or showed it to anyone.

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The images, in which some of the children were naked, showed nothing more than the children being silly, laughing and dancing, Hoffner said.

“There was nothing inappropriate about any of these videos,” Hoffner said.

Hoffner’s wife, Melodee, has defended him, calling the videos innocent family moments that were misinterpreted by authorities. Social workers found no evidence the couple’s children had been abused, and a search of Hoffner’s home computer found no evidence of child porn.

Hoffner’s attorney, Jim Fleming, called three veteran law officers who have worked on the case to the stand Wednesday to try to show they had doubts about whether the videos amounted to child pornography.

But under questioning by prosecutor Mike Hanson, the investigators said they found the videos troubling and that they consulted closely with the Blue Earth County attorney’s office simply to find out what laws applied and how to proceed.

Mankato police Cmdr. Matt DuRose acknowledged there was a question in his mind about whether the videos were child pornography, but said he wasn’t claiming they weren’t.

“What I’d seen was disturbing,” said Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Detective Jerry Billiar.

“I would say it was very disturbing,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Rich Murry.

The videos are under a court seal, and Judge Krista Jass had not viewed them as of Wednesday.

Hanson said in his closing statement that the decision on whether the videos are pornographic should be left to a jury and disputed the claim that they’re innocent family fun.

“Adults should not make videos of children in lewd poses. Period,” he said.

Jass didn’t immediately rule on the motion to dismiss the charges. She gave attorneys until Nov. 14 to file additional briefs. She did not set a date for the next hearing. While Hoffner maintains his innocence, he has not yet entered a plea.

Hoffner was entering his fifth year as head football coach at Division II Minnesota State, Mankato, where he had a 34-13 record. He led the Mavericks to the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 and a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title in 2011. He was named NSIC coach of the year in 2009. The Mavericks are undefeated at 9-0 in his absence, under acting coach Aaron Keen.

Hoffner’s supporters held a candlelight vigil outside his home Tuesday night, and the family issued a statement expressing their gratitude.

“The Hoffners have received hundreds of encouraging cards, letters and e-mails from friends, community/civic leaders, business leaders, teachers, school administrators and former athletes who have competed for Todd expressing their concern and strong support,” the statement said.