In May, Matthew Koso married his girlfriend, Crystal, who was pregnant with their child. But the new father and husband may soon be separated from his family and sent to prison. His crime? Koso is 22; Crystal is 14.
Koso is charged with first-degree sexual assault in his home state of Nebraska and faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted. The couple married in Kansas, where the wedding was legal, with their parents' blessing.
"I'm so scared that I am going to lose both of them, and I don't want to," Matthew Koso said through tears. "Right now there isn't anything that I love more than my wife and my daughter."
Right or Wrong?
Matthew first met Crystal through her half-brother when she was 8, and they began dating in the fall of 2003 when he was 20 and she was 12.
Crystal's mother, Cecilia Guyer, filed a restraining order against Matthew Koso on Sept. 17, 2004.
"He needs to hang around girls and boys his own age group," Guyer wrote in the complaint. "He needs to seek counseling. He has a history of the same, similar with other young girls, and he needs to be stopped here and now."
Matthew and Crystal continued to see each other, and Crystal became pregnant. The couple hid the pregnancy until Guyer discovered Crystal's stretch marks during a shopping trip, according to The New York Times.
"At that time, our options were limited," Matthew's mother, Peggy Koso, said today on "Good Morning America." "It was either abortion, which was well past due; adoption, which was out of the question; and then it was to marry her, which we thought was the right thing to do."
Matthew and Crystal were married on May 3, in Kansas, one of the few states that allows children as young as 12 to marry with parental consent. Guyer filed to revoke the restraining order on May 5, 2005, citing her reason as, "Matthew and Crystal Guyer are married now."
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning learned about the relationship from several residents of Falls City, Neb., the couple's hometown, in July, and charged Matthew Koso with first-degree sexual assault.
"We cannot allow grown men to have sex with children even if the parents think it is right, because the grown man thinks it is right and the child thinks it is right," Bruning said. "Society doesn't think it is right."
Peggy Koso said she would not have approved of the marriage if Crystal was not pregnant.
"But you have to know Crystal," she said. "Kids are maturing at a very fast pace today, so in her case, I think she knows what she wants and she can make up her mind about it. What people don't realize, too, is that Matt is not emotionally 22. He's not mature like other young men his age are, so he is really at the same level of maturity as Crystal even though there are those years between them."
Matthew Koso, who has attention deficit disorder and other learning disabilities, pleaded not guilty to the first-degree sexual assault charge, and his trial is set to begin in November. He was released on $5,000 bond in time for the birth of his daughter, Samara, on Aug. 24.
A Community Divided
Residents of Falls City have sent hundreds of letters and gifts in support of Matthew and Crystal.
Regan Anson, spokeswoman for the Nebraska attorney general's office, said that as of Sept. 2 her office had received 283 out-of-state e-mails and letters with 72 percent supporting the Koso family's position. Of the 56 in-state letters and e-mails, 56 percent supported the family.
She said that following the story about the Kosos today on "Good Morning America," the office received about 50 calls in the first two working hours of the day.
Matthew Koso's supporters say he is trying to do the right thing and is being unfairly singled out.
One in five teenagers has sex before turning 15, and about 150,000 babies are born each year to a minor parent. In Nebraska, there were 25 births to mothers under 15 in 2002, the latest year for which those statistics are available. In Kansas, five girls under 15 were married in 2003, three in 2002 and six in 2001.
In Nebraska, sex between an adult and a person younger than 16 is considered statutory rape, whether the couple is married or not.
Matthew Koso could face further charges for two to three additional relationships with girls between the ages of 12 and 14 when he was 20, according Anson.
Matthew Koso's lawyer would not allow him to comment, but Peggy Koso has said her son has dated only one other girl under 16, and they did not have sex.
Determined to Move Forward
"I am ready to raise this child and I know I can," Crystal said.
Falls City is a town of 4,600 about 100 miles south of Omaha. Crystal described it as a place of few opportunities.
"Here in Falls City you have two choices: go get drunk or high and die in a car accident or of an overdose, or go get pregnant," she said. "So which is the wrong choice?"
Crystal's father left when she was a baby, and her mother is on disability. She said she had to fend for herself as a child. Currently she is living with Matthew and Samara in Matthew's parents' basement, and says she wants to focus on her new family and on finishing high school. She recently started her freshman year.
"The people judging, like the attorney general, don't know me," Crystal said. "I can make these decisions. I know what I want, and if I'm willing to take the consequences, then I should be able to decide what I want."
She added that if Samara starts dating a 20-year-old when she is 12, she will "send her to her room."