Former Shattuck-St. Mary's teacher Lynn Seibel, speaking publicly for the first time, said he is not guilty of sexually abusing students at the Faribault boarding school.
In a jail interview with MPR News on Saturday, Seibel said he prays he will be acquitted and can return to his life as an actor in California. "I'm still innocent and I've been incarcerated for seven months," he said.
Seibel, a slight 71-year-old man with a short white beard, dressed in an orange jail shirt and pants, appeared calm. He said he misses life at the Faribault school, where he taught for more than a decade and was once named teacher of the year.
"There's nothing nobler and finer in the world than being a teacher," he said. "It's the greatest job you can have."
Seibel left the school in 2003. According to police, Seibel left after being confronted by the new headmaster about pornography on his work computer. Seibel told police in a recorded interview last year that he left the school because "there had been talk" about his sexual interactions with students, according to the criminal complaint.
Police arrested Seibel in October after a former Shattuck-St. Mary's student told a probation officer he was sexually abused by the one-time drama teacher. That statement led police to Seibel's apartment in North Hollywood, Calif., where police found child pornography. Police recorded an interview in which Seibel confessed to sexual contact with students, according to a Rice County criminal complaint.
• Charges filed against Lynn Seibel: Read the complaint
• Seibel was previously accused of misconduct
• Police, school differ on whether abuse was reported
• Faribault residents react to allegations
• School profile: News reverberates far beyond elite campus
• Former teachers claim alleged abuse was known, not reported
• Victims silent until one was charged with abuse himself
• Timeline of the Shattuck-St. Mary's case
Los Angeles prosecutors dropped the child pornography charge so that Seibel could be extradited to Minnesota to face 14 felony counts of criminal sexual conduct for the alleged sexual abuse of six male students at Shattuck-St. Mary's from 1999 to 2003 and three related counts.
Seibel said the arrest came as a surprise. He had been working as an actor and recently appeared in an episode of the TV show The Big Bang Theory.
"Things were going well," he said.
He said he's concerned about how his family is handling the news.
"You spend your life trying to be good, and then something like this comes along," he said. "It's not only humbling. It can be humiliating."
Seibel said his family and friends are making arrangements for his release on bail.
In the meantime, he said, he's learned to cope with jail by exercising, reading and helping others. By his count, he's lost 55 pounds and read more than 100 books -- "everything from Anna Karenina to Treasure Island."
He said he's "met some wonderful and supportive people" in jail, and believes that God put him there so he can help others.
"I'm physically strong, emotionally drained, and spiritually better off than I've ever been in my life," he said.
Police allege Seibel organized naked gatherings where he would coerce boys into sexual activity. Four students told police that Seibel illegally touched them when they were alone, according to the criminal complaint. Police said most of the abuse took place in the boys' dormitory where Seibel served as head supervisor and lived in a separate apartment with his family.
Seibel's attorney, Rice County public defender James Martin, said the public shouldn't jump to conclusions about his client.
"There has been a good deal of hysteria regarding the type of crime that he has been charged with," Martin said. "I do think that we have to judge each situation on its own. And we also have to judge each person remembering that they are human beings."
Seibel has yet to enter a plea.
Martin said he may request a change of venue for the trial because of local publicity and the school's prominence. About 400 students and several hundred employees of Shattuck-St. Mary's live in Faribault, a southern Minnesota town of 24,000. The private school sits on bluffs overlooking the jail and courthouse.
Faribault County Attorney Paul Beaumaster said he opposes a move because he believes the charges have been equally publicized elsewhere in the state.
Both attorneys said the case will take months to resolve.
Seibel was in court Friday for a brief hearing. He showed little outward emotion as attorneys and Judge John Cajacob discussed procedural issues. He glanced at the judge twice, his lawyer once, and spoke just three words, when the judge asked if he would return to court if released on bail.
"Yes, of course," Seibel said.
The next hearing is scheduled for April 10.