A former Madison East High School teacher was sentenced Friday to 12 years in prison and 20 years of supervised release for hiding video cameras in student bathrooms during field trips.
Seventeen East High students, former students, parents and teachers addressed U.S. District Judge James Peterson during the four-hour sentencing hearing of David Kruchten, 39, of Cottage Grove.
Nearly all fought back tears as they described Kruchten’s “manipulative” and “grooming” behavior. Many asked Peterson to hand down 20 years in prison, the maximum sentence.
“I have no doubt in my mind he was actually grooming the girls he wanted to see on camera,” a parent of one of the victims said, her voice heavy with emotion.
Some of the victims said they were as young as 14 years old the first time they went on an overnight field trip with Kruchten. Most said their lives had changed dramatically since the December 2019 discovery of hidden cameras in student hotel rooms during an overnight field trip organized by Kruchten.
People are also reading…
“I have no sense of privacy even in my own home,” one victim, who also babysat Kruchten’s young children, said as the former teacher sat less than 20 feet away in an orange jail suit, his feet chained.
A number of victims also said they struggled with feelings of guilt, anxiety and depression. Some said they attended as many as eight overnight field trips with Kruchten. One said, since the discovery, she found herself in a public bathroom taking apart an air freshener to see if a camera was inside, amid an anxiety attack.
“These past two years have been impossible to get through,” another victim said. “(Kruchten) made me feel like I was no longer human.”
Peterson called Kruchten’s crimes calculated, sustained and masterfully manipulative. Kruchten exploited his power as a teacher to get close to the victims, but, Peterson said, he didn’t believe Kruchten became a teacher with the intent to prey on his students.
“He’s not a relentlessly evil person, but he’s deeply flawed,” Peterson said, ahead of announcing the sentence. “My responsibility is to the victims, the community and Mr. Kruchten. I have to look out for the rights of everyone in the room.”
Kruchten’s 12-year sentence includes time served and a possible 15% reduction for good behavior. Once out of prison, he’ll serve 20 years of supervised release, which includes mandatory psychosexual evaluation, though the mandatory evaluation could expire after the first few years of supervised release. He will also be listed as a sex offender and will never teach again, Peterson said.
A plea agreement under which Kruchten pleaded guilty in August to attempting to produce child pornography states that all students who have been on trips chaperoned by Kruchten since 2016 are considered victims and had the right to be heard before he was sentenced. Under the plea agreement, Peterson said there were roughly 137 victims.
Victim impact statements, all filed under seal, poured into Kruchten’s court file before Friday’s hearing. Peterson said he lost count of how many there were but estimated at least a couple of dozen.
Kruchten faced a sentence of anywhere from six to 20 years in prison, according to the agreement. His attorney, federal defender Joseph Bugni, wrote in a sentencing memorandum that he sought a six-year sentence ahead of Friday’s hearing. The prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Altman and Laura Przybylinski Finn, asked in their memorandum for a 15-year sentence.
Prior to his sentencing in U.S. District Court, Kruchten wrote that his obsession with spying on people didn’t begin with his students, but it ended there after starting with family and friends, including his wife, parents and grandparents.
Kruchten was arrested in Minneapolis in December 2019 after a student discovered a camera hidden in a hotel room bathroom air freshener. Other students then looked around and found cameras hidden in air fresheners, smoke detectors and other devices.
A subsequent Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation probe found recording devices had been placed in students’ hotel rooms during other trips, to Wisconsin Dells and Lake Geneva, before the Minneapolis trip.