An Anne Arundel County teacher was acquitted yesterday of charges that he had sex with one of his students 18 years ago at Glen Burnie High School.
A Circuit Court jury of seven women and five men deliberated for nearly eight hours over two days before announcing its verdict shortly after 3 p.m.
"I am ecstatic about the verdict," said Thomas A. Newman, who was charged last October with child abuse and unnatural and perverted sex practices. "It renews my faith in the jury system and justice in America."
Mr. Newman, 45, was the fourth county school teacher to face child abuse charges in the last year.
Only Ronald Walter Price, the former Northeast High School teacher who took his story of sex with students on national television, has been convicted. He is serving 21 years.
Mr. Newman's wife, Janice, gasped and began to cry when the verdict was read in Judge Eugene M. Lerner's courtroom.
Mr. Newman's accuser, a 33-year-old marketing specialist, sat directly behind him in the front row of the courtroom with Maureen Gilmer, director of the victim assistance program, and Cynthia Ferris, an assistant state's attorney.
The jurors, who twice passed notes to Judge Lerner asking for further instructions, said they had agreed as a group not to discuss their deliberations. One woman said only, "It was a very difficult case."
The accuser, who told jurors Tuesday that Mr. Newman befriended her when she was 16, persuaded her to perform a sex act at the school and once had sex with her at her home, would not comment.
Thomas A. Morrow, Mr. Newman's lawyer, said he believed the jury found his client not guilty because they questioned the woman's account of where the alleged abuse occurred.
The woman testified that Mr. Newman led her to a third-floor classroom area that was closed to students because it was being renovated and persuaded her to perform a sex act.
But Mr. Newman and other witnesses testified that classroom area was not undergoing renovations in 1976 and was open for students and teachers to pass through.
Prosecutor Frank Ragione said he was disappointed in the verdict.
"But we have to respect the jury's verdict," he said. "They are the conscience of the community."
Mr. Ragione and his boss, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, denied allegations that Mr. Newman was the victim of a witch hunt in the county schools.
"We had a good case against Mr. Newman," he said. "We receive over 80 cases of child abuse a year, and many of them involve all kinds of people. To say that is a witch hunt is crazy."
Mr. Newman, who is on administrative leave from his job at the Center for Applied Technology South in Edgewater, said he is looking forward to going back to work.
A special assistant to Dr. Carol S. Parham, superintendent of schools, will conduct an internal investigation into the allegations, said Nancy Jane Adams, a school spokeswoman. The superintendent will review the report and make a recommendation that could range from returning to class to termination.
Mr. Newman has the right to appeal that decision to the county Board of Education. If he is not satisfied with their finding, he can appeal that decision to the State Board of Education.