Howard soccer coach acquitted in alleged sex abuse at practice

February 12, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County jury acquitted yesterday an Ellicott City man of sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl during soccer practice in Howard County last spring.

Thomas M. Webster, 40, was acting as a volunteer assistant coach for a girls team in the recreation league of the Soccer Association of Columbia last April when the incident allegedly occurred, according to testimony during the two-day trial.

The case was moved to Carroll because a relative of the girl is an employee in the Howard County Circuit Court. To protect her privacy, the girl is not being named.

The jury of five men and seven women deliberated four hours before finding Webster not guilty of child abuse, battery and third- and fourth-degree sexual offenses.

Webster declined to comment.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Jerry Joyce, an assistant state's attorney for Carroll County, asked the jury to choose who was lying -- a girl who testified that the defendant touched her inappropriately and forced her hand to touch him, or a man who took advantage of the trust the girl's parents had placed in him to protect her during practice.

Jonathan Scott Smith, a Columbia lawyer representing Webster, proposed a third option that allowed jurors to decide that neither was lying.

Pointing to inconsistencies in the child's testimony -- contrasting what she told her mother after the April 25 soccer practice with what she told police four days later and with what she had said during Monday's testimony -- Smith said it was more likely that whatever occurred happened accidentally as his client grabbed the girl's upper arm and pulled her toward a position on the field.

"In her mind, something may have happened, but it was not intentional," Smith said.

The team's head coach, who was directing the practice, testified that he saw nothing unusual during a controlled scrimmage near the end of the practice.

All the players were in the center of the field vying for the ball when, from a distance of about 15 feet, the head coach said he turned his head and saw Webster pulling the girl by the upper arm. The head coach said the girl appeared upset. He said he asked her after practice if she was OK, and she said yes.

Webster testified that he took the girl's upper arm and pulled her up the field to where he wanted her positioned. He denied ever having touched her sexually.

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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