A former Howard County high school teacher could face 15 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of sex abuse of a minor, indecent exposure and telephone misuse yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court.
The 12-member jury, which deliberated three hours, found Joseph Samuel Ellis not guilty of two counts of a fourth-degree sex offense. The 25-year-old could have faced a maximum of 23 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Ellis, who taught history and government and was an assistant coach for the football and lacrosse teams at Glenelg High School, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of displaying obscene materials to a minor. The count, which carries a maximum one year sentence, stems from six photos Ellis sent to his accuser - a former student who was 17 years old at the time of the offenses - on Dec. 17, 2006. Ellis had taught the accuser when she was a junior.
Ellis, who was arrested Jan. 8, 2007, was handcuffed after the verdict and taken to the Howard County Detention Center, where he will remain until his sentencing on March 21.
Neither Ellis' family, nor his lawyer, Gerald Richman, commented after the verdicts were announced.
Ellis' accuser, her two friends who testified on her behalf, and Lisa Broten and Susan Weinstein, the two prosecutors for the case, also declined to comment.
Jurors, who were escorted from the courthouse by sheriff's deputies, declined to comment.
During closing arguments yesterday, Richman questioned the integrity of the accuser and two friends who testified this week.
"I think you should consider their failures to report this conduct on an immediate basis," Richman said.
Weinstein responded that the accuser - who is now an 18-year-old freshman in college - reported the incident in a timely manner.
"Her story has been consistent all along," she said.
Through the course of the three-day trial, jurors heard testimony that Ellis, a popular teacher at the school, sent his accuser sexually-charged e-mails, text messages and photographs of genitalia and various sexual acts during December 2006.
The accuser testified that Ellis text-messaged her up to 25 times a day.
The jury also heard a taped conversation orchestrated by Howard County police between Ellis and the accuser, in which he admitted to exposing his penis to her in his classroom in mid-December 2006.
Ellis denied exposing himself to the girl when he testified Tuesday.
"I was weirded out," Ellis said. "The conversation took me off guard."
Weinstein said in her closing arguments that Ellis violated the role of a teacher.
"[The accuser's] parents expected that they were sending her to a safe environment. Under the law they should expect that," Weinstein said. "They had the right to believe she was safe."
Ellis was the first of three Howard County public school teachers arrested during the 2006-2007 school year and accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with students. Each has been fired.
The others were Alan Meade Beier, 53, a former chemistry and physics teacher at River Hill High School; and Kirsten Ann Kinley, 28, a former special-education teacher at Marriotts Ridge High School.