Ex-coach acquitted of child abuse

May 17, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury deliberated two hours yesterday before acquitting a 27-year-old former wrestling coach of child abuse.

Sean Mark Castorina pounded the table in front of him, jumped out of his chair and shouted "Yes!" when the verdict was announced after the weeklong trial.

"I thank God, my wife, my family and my lawyer, and I'm just glad it's over," Mr. Castorina, a former wrestling coach and development director at the Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro, said as he left the courthouse surrounded by supporters.

Mr. Castorina, an Annapolis resident, said prosecutors mistakenly based their case on the word of one 14-year-old wrestler.

The case represents the fourth consecutive acquittal of a school employee charged with child abuse in Anne Arundel County since former Northeast High School teacher Ronald Walter Price was charged in April 1993.

Price, who admitted on national television to having sex with students, is serving a 21-year sentence on three counts of child abuse.

"With four teachers being found not guilty, when is there going to be a flag on all this? I spent a year with no job, no income, all the legal fees and all the embarrassment based on the word of one kid," Mr. Castorina said. "It's not fair."

The jury of six men and six women decided Mr. Castorina did not sexually exploit the student, who had testified that his coach gave him frequent massages, once paid him $40 to run around the coach's house naked and offered him $100 to perform a sex act.

Kathleen Rogers, assistant state's attorney, had emphasized in closing arguments that Mr. Castorina showered the boy with attention, giving him gifts that included underwear, took him on shopping trips and let him drive his car.

He also forged notes to school authorities so that he could come late to school, according to testimony.

In a search of Mr. Castorina's home on Skipjack Lane last August, police found a pair of underwear in the coat pocket of Mr. Castorina's sports coat, and the boy's mother said the underwear belonged to her son, according to testimony.

"Is this relationship normal? Does it make sense? No," Ms. Rogers told the jury in closing arguments yesterday.

But William J. Rowan III, Mr. Castorina's lawyer, focused on the alleged victim's credibility and argued that no one would pay a boy to run naked when they could see naked bodies any time after wrestling practice.

"It doesn't make any sense to pay for something that you can see for free," he said.

He asked jurors to keep in mind that the accuser's former employer, two friends, a youth minister at the school and the school's day-care supervisor all testified that the youth had been untruthful in the past.

"This young man, for whatever reason, has a bad reputation for telling the truth," Mr. Rowan said.

Jurors said yesterday that it came down to a question of credibility.

They said that they took the word of the 27-year-old Sunday school teacher, who denied the charges on the stand, over that of the alleged victim, who is now 15.

"When I first heard him [the alleged victim], my first impression was that he was pushed into it, pushed into all this," one juror said.

The juror, who refused to give his name, said he thought Mr. Castorina may have been guilty of mistakes of judgment, but not anything criminal.

"He had the mentality of a 14-year-old in his job, and it was more like he viewed himself as one of the guys than as someone who should be a role model," he said.

Several of Mr. Castorina's supporters, who crowded into the small courtroom to watch most of the trial, joined hands and prayed quietly on an unused courthouse stairway yesterday afternoon while waiting for the verdict. At the school, officials said they were relieved that it was over.

"For Sean, we're pleased that he was found not guilty. For the boy who came forward with the allegations, we're praying for him, that he will get the healing that he needs through this," said James Hockenberry, administrator of the Upper Marlboro school.

He could not say whether Mr. Castorina will be retained by the school, but said the school's nine-member board of trustees will have to decide that in the weeks ahead.

"It's been a long nine months for everyone," he said.

Despite this and other defeats on similar cases, Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said he does not think his office was overzealous in prosecuting any of the teachers and that he will not change how he evaluates and prosecutes other child-abuse cases against teachers.

He said teachers and police officers have always been difficult cases to prosecute successfully. But he said if the evidence is there, he will prosecute, regardless of the defendant's profession.

"I can't say that where we find sufficient evidence, that because it's a teacher or police officer, that we won't charge," Mr. Weathersbee said. "We just can't work that way."

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