A church bus driver was acquitted yesterday of charges that he fondled a 10-year-old Columbia girl after dropping off other children who attended Sunday school at Harvester Baptist Church last October.
John Benson Jr., 43, of the 8600 block of Fine Rock Road in Laurel was found not guilty of child abuse, battery and two sexual offenses after a Howard Circuit Court jury deliberated for about 15 minutes.
Testifying yesterday, Mr. Benson, a former Marine who has a civilian job at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, denied touching the girl in a sexual manner.
He testified that he believes the girl made up the story because she was angry at him as a result of a disagreement they had while on a field trip a day earlier.
While under cross-examination, he acknowledged that his testimony about the Oct. 23 incident at the Columbia church matched that of the victim -- except for the manner in which he recalled touching the girl.
The girl, from Columbia's Wilde Lake village, testified Monday that Mr. Benson had her sit on his lap and touched her chest while they were in the kitchen of the Harvester church.
Mr. Benson testified that he touched the girl's lower back to prevent her from backing into him and later touched her shoulder while trying to get her off his lap. He testified that the girl sat on his lap without his permission.
On the day of the incident, the girl was the last of 24 students to be taken home from Sunday school classes, Mr. Benson said.