'Witch hunt' alleged at abuse trial


A teacher charged with having sex with a student at Glen Burnie Senior High School in 1976 is the victim of a witch hunt, his attorney told an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury yesterday.

"I'd ask you to think of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, when all those children and some adults swore that those women were witches, and they were burned at the stake because of it," Thomas Morrow, attorney for Thomas A. Newman, said in closing arguments yesterday. "We know that those people weren't witches now, don't we?"

Mr. Newman, 45, of Glen Burnie is charged with child abuse and unnatural and perverted sex practices. He is being tried before Judge Eugene M. Lerner.

A 33-year-old marketing specialist told jurors Tuesday that Mr. Newman befriended her over the course of several weeks when she was 16, and that one day he led her to a third-floor classroom area -- which was closed to students because it was being renovated -- where he persuaded her to perform a sex act.

She also said that they had sex at her family's apartment in Glen Burnie a few weeks later.

Mr. Newman, who could be sentenced to 15 years in prison if convicted, denied the charges and said he doesn't remember her.

Yesterday, Mr. Newman's wife and five teachers testified on his behalf.

Several of the teachers corroborated his testimony that the third-floor classroom area was never under renovation or closed to students.

All five teachers and a former student praised Mr. Newman as a trustworthy and honest professional.

"I know Thomas as a fine gentleman, an honest person and a wonderful colleague and friend," said Roddy Jablonksi, a teacher at the Center for Applied Technology South in Edgewater, where Mr. Newman has worked the past four years.

But prosecutor Frank Ragione told jurors most anyone could gather such support if facing a criminal trial.

"Up until the day Jesus was crucified, Judas Iscariot could have found 11 of the best character witnesses anyone could ever hope for," he said in his closing statement.

Mr. Ragione emphasized the alleged victim also had witnesses corroborate her account. "This case comes down to one issue, and that issue is, who do you believe," Mr. Ragione said.

He picked up on Mr. Morrow's analogy to witch hunts, saying that while there may be no witches, there are numerous evils in the world -- including child abuse.

"At that time and probably today, there are no witches, but there are child abusers. They sure do exist, and they're convicted in courtrooms every day," he said.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated two and a half hours yesterday before Judge Lerner asked them in a note if they were close to reaching a verdict.

He sent them home for the night about 5:30 p.m. when they replied that they were not close to deciding.

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