Arundel teacher acquitted of sex abuse charges

March 26, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Charles Allen Yocum, one of three Northeast High School teachers charged in the last year with sexually abusing students, was acquitted yesterday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for 12 hours before deciding that Mr. Yocum, a 30-year-old special education teacher charged with child sex abuse, did not ask a 16-year-old student to perform sex acts on him in his classroom and in a storage room at the Pasadena school in the spring of 1989.

Mr. Yocum, who sat stoically throughout the two-day trial, showed no emotion as the jury foreman looked at him and said, "not guilty."

Mr. Yocum's father-in-law, William Gergely, a 66-year-old dynamite salesman from Princeton, W.Va., yelped "Yeah" loud enough to get him escorted out of Judge Eugene M. Lerner's courtroom, courtesy of the county sheriff's office.

"I wouldn't care if they did put me in jail for a night or two," a smiling Mr. Gergely said later. "This is the good ending to a long, hard year for this family."

One of the other teachers, Ronald W. Price, who attracted national attention when he said on national television that he had had sex with students, was convicted Sept. 8 and is serving a 26-year sentence.

The third teacher, Laurie S. Cook of Catonsville, was acquitted by an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury Dec. 10.

Yesterday, Mr. Yocum said he was thrilled that the case was over and that he hopes the county school board will let him return to teaching.

He said it could be several months before he is allowed back into a school but that he would return to teach at Northeast "in a minute."

"I'd go back to school on Monday if they'd let me," he said, flanked by his wife, Monica Yocum, and his two lawyers, Terrence M. Nolan and James Baldwin.

Mr. Yocum said he still is unsure why the alleged victim filed the charges but that he probably will be more guarded dealing with students in the future.

"You're going to have to be a more defensive teacher," Mr. Yocum said.

Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia M. Ferris painted Mr. Yocum as a teacher who took advantage of a student who had sought comfort when she was depressed about her relationship with an alcoholic father and an abusive stepmother.

The student, now 21 and living near State College, Pa., said Mr. Yocum asked her to perform a sex act behind locked doors at the school three times in 1989 and that she agreed not to tell anyone after he told her that no one would believe her. Charges were filed last year after her fiancee wrote a letter to school authorities reporting what she had said.

Twenty-seven teachers, students and friends of Mr. Yocum testified that neither he nor any Northeast teacher ever locked classroom doors.

The defense team also made sure that jurors knew the student had pleaded guilty to passing 28 bad checks during a six-week period in the rural Pennsylvania community where she now lives.

Jurors said after the trial that they needed more evidence than the word of the woman to convict a teacher who even the prosecutor acknowledged in closing arguments was a "nice guy."

"All we had to go on was one person's word that it happened," said Stan Plank, the jury foreman, a 44-year-old technician from Harwood.

Gwen Cline, a juror from Glen Burnie, said the panel initially was deadlocked at 5-5 with two undecided jurors when deliberations began Thursday morning. By midday yesterday it was 11-1 in favor of acquittal, she said.

"I was for not guilty from the start. I just don't think they had enough evidence," she said.

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