April 24, 2014

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Former Wellington teacher says he didn’t mean to scare


Patrick Knoble says he was just venting when he said he’d burn down the school

OBERLIN — Former Wellington High School vocational teacher Patrick Knoble testified Monday that he was just venting when he told a colleague he hoped McCormick Middle School would burn down with the superintendent and school board president inside.

CHUCK HUMEL / CHRONICLE
Patrick Knoble at Oberlin Municipal Court on Monday.

“I was angry,” Knoble, 36, testified in his trial on a misdemeanor charge of aggravated menacing in Oberlin Municipal Court. “I made the statement ‘I wish the school will burn down with Dr. (Victor) Cardenzana and Brian Fehlan inside.’ I said I’d light the match.”

“Did you think that was funny?” asked Margaret O’Bryon, prosecutor for Wellington.

“I was angry,” Knoble said.

Knoble could face up to six months in jail and a fine of as much as $1,000 if he is convicted of aggravated menacing, which is knowingly causing another to believe that the offender will cause serious physical harm to the person or property of another or his family.

In a separate felony case, Knoble, whose teaching license was revoked in March, faces two counts each of theft and theft in office in connection with accusations that he failed to account for up to $5,000 he oversaw as adviser to the Wellington High School Future Farmers of America. A trial is set for Dec. 4.

Oberlin Municipal Judge Thomas Januzzi, who heard the aggravated menacing case without a jury, said he would render a decision after studying appellate cases cited by the prosecutor and defense attorney. Knoble had initially sought a jury trial, but recently withdrew that request saying that the shootings at SuccessTech Academy in Cleveland could prejudice the jury pool.

Superintendent Victor Cardenzana acknowledged Knoble never personally threatened him, but he said there were numerous instances where Knoble made it known to others how he felt about the superintendent.

Once, Knoble ripped wires from a speaker when he heard Cardenzana’s voice over the intercom, the superintendent said.

Employees Barbara Ziegler, Regina Seabold and Kathi Bockmore testified that Knoble made statements to them about poisoning turkey and feeding it to Cardenzana, burning down or blowing up the school or “getting” Cardenzana. One of the employees said Knoble told her he dreamed he shot Cardenzana.

If he got in trouble, Knoble said he would plead not guilty by reason of insanity, one of the employees testified.

Cardenzana said he still fears coming to work in the morning when it is dark.

“I’m very uneasy,” Cardenzana said. “I know Mr. Knoble has some friends who are bus drivers. I’m uneasy because I don’t know what’s around the corner.

“It’s dark and he still could have access to the building,” Cardenzana testified.

Cardenzana also told Januzzi that two cooks came to him on Jan. 11 because “they were very concerned about my life and the lives of students.”

The superintendent said he sent a letter to police on Jan. 12 and the department investigated statements made by Knoble.

Knoble, who testified after Cardenzana, said that he still wishes Cardenzana harm — but only financially.

“Someday, when this is all over, I will probably sue him and the school district,” Knoble said.

Knoble’s attorney, Shimane Smith, argued that Knoble never meant any of it and never knew his comments would be conveyed to Cardenzana — in some cases weeks after the remark was made.

Smith said Knoble is entitled to freedom of speech.

“To say a person can’t vent or express their frustration … is like saying, ‘Let’s take the Constitution and rip it up,’ ” Smith said.

Even after reporting the incidents to police, Cardenzana went to Knoble’s home to hand-deliver a letter, Smith said.

But O’Bryon said Knoble deliberately made threats to the fellow employees he thought were likely convey them to Cardenzana.

“He’s not being prosecuted for venting. He’s not being prosecuted for saying mean things. He’s being prosecuted because he threatened Dr. Cardenzana’s life,” O’Bryon said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 653-6250 or cleise@chroniclet.com.