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BENNINGTON — A former teacher at the Vermont School for Girls faces at least 10 years in jail after being convicted of repeatedly sexually assaulting an underage girl.

A jury on Wednesday found Morris David Nelson, 55, of Bennington, guilty of three felony sexual assault charges at the end of a two-day trial in Vermont Superior Court Bennington Criminal Division.

Nelson was found guilty on single felony counts of aggravated and repeated sexual assault, sexual assault on a victim under 18 entrusted to his care, and sexual exploitation of a minor.

A pre-sentence investigation will be conducted by the Vermont Department of Corrections. The aggravated assault charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in jail.

Nelson had been accused of raping a then 17-year-old girl on multiple occasions. The girl attended the school for 14 months.

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Authorities said Nelson developed a friendship with the girl. At one point, he brought her to a concert in New Hampshire. When they weren't allowed in it was because they had been drinking alcohol, Nelson took her to a hotel where he raped her. Nelson also provided respite care for her; the girl told authorities she felt she had no place to go. The girl stayed at Nelson's home during the holidays and said she was assaulted repeatedly. An investigator wrote in an affidavit that she stated "it felt like she was selling her soul for a place to stay."

Nelson, who goes by his middle name, was a math teacher at the Vermont School for Girls from between Jan. 2013 and Dec. 2014, and then again between March 2015 and Nov. 2015, according to court documents. The private residential school serves girls ages 10 to 19 with emotional problems. The private school for youth is also called the Bennington School for Girls and is the former Bennington School, Inc.

Nelson has been jailed since he pleaded not guilty to all three charges at his arraignment in Rutland last June. After a weight of evidence hearing, in which the girl testified she would fear for her safety if he was released, Judge Cortland Corsones ordered Nelson be held without bail. Judges denied the defense's subsuquent motions to review bail and that Nelson be put under home detention.

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.


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