Teacher acquitted in student-sex case

11/11/2004
BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Richard Wisbon, the Libbey High School teacher acquitted of a sexual battery charge, hugs his wife, Lonnie, after the verdict was read in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
Richard Wisbon, the Libbey High School teacher acquitted of a sexual battery charge, hugs his wife, Lonnie, after the verdict was read in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Libbey High School teacher Richard Wisbon was found not guilty yesterday of a sexual-battery charge stemming from a 17-year-old female student's accusation that they had sex in a classroom.

An emotional Mr. Wisbon, 38, pumped his fist as a bailiff read the verdict of a Lucas County Common Pleas jury that cleared him of the charge that could have sent him to prison for five years.

He embraced his attorney, Ron Wingate, and moments later, after the jurors left the courtroom, Mr. Wisbon sobbed uncontrollably as he hugged and kissed his wife, Lonnie, who was in the courtroom during the entire three-day trial.

The jury - nine women and three men - heard closing arguments yesterday morning and deliberated about an hour before returning with the verdict.

The woman, now 18, claimed Mr. Wisbon had sex with her on a desk Feb. 6 in a classroom where Mr. Wisbon taught vocational and workshop instruction. He was suspended from his job several days later.

Wisbon
Wisbon

She was not in the courtroom to hear the jury's decision. However, her mother and sister were present, but left immediately after the verdict was announced.

Lori Olender, an assistant county prosecutor who handled the case, said she was disappointed with the verdict, but surprised at the relatively short time the jury deliberated.

"I believed that little girl. I still believe what she said is true. We tell children that they should tell the truth when this stuff happens. They tell the truth in court, but sometimes it is not enough," said Ms. Olender, who supervises the child victim division.

Mr. Wisbon and his wife told reporters they didn't want to talk as they left the courtroom. They did not return phone calls last night.

Mr. Wisbon, who worked as a union carpenter 12 years before he began teaching, will return to the classroom next week, according to a statement released by Toledo Public Schools.

"As a result of the verdict reached today, the district is changing Mr. Wisbon's status from suspension without pay to an immediate reinstatement with pay," the district said in the statement.

Judge William Skow, who presided over the trial, talked to the jurors privately after the courtroom was cleared.

The jury heard the testimony of the victim who claimed Mr. Wisbon began flirting with her while she was playing a video game on a computer in the classroom, and then made suggestive comments, rubbed her leg, and eventually undressed before engaging in sex.

However, prosecutors presented no physical evidence indicating a sexual encounter took place, including the presence of DNA on the woman's clothing or in the classroom.

In an interview, Charles Rose, who was the jury foreman, said there was reasonable doubt among the jurors whether Mr. Wisbon was guilty, and they didn't feel comfortable with a conviction based solely on the testimony of the woman.

Mr. Rose said Mr. Wisbon, at times, appeared conceited in court. "I felt he was very arrogant," Mr. Rose said.

"We couldn't determine what actually happened or what didn't happen with the evidence we were presented," said Mr. Rose, adding that the consensus of the panel was that the woman's testimony was somewhat inconsistent.

Mr. Wingate said he believed the jury's decision was influenced by only having the woman's testimony to evaluate, which was not enough to overcome the presumption of innocence.

"It was the right decision. It simply was a choice of the jury believing her or not believing her," Mr. Wingate said.

Toledo police Detective Regina Lester said a delay in getting to the crime scene hindered investigation efforts. She said school officials were confronted with the allegations on Feb. 9, but didn't report it to police until late the following day. A crime scene analysis was conducted Feb. 12.

However, Clinton Faulkner, executive assistant to the superintendent for human resources, said the Libbey principal learned about the alleged incident on Feb. 10 and called police that same day.

Meanwhile, investigators are looking into allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers at Woodward High School. A female teacher allegedly had sex with a male student and a male teacher allegedly had sexual contact with a female student.

Mr. Faulkner said the teachers have been suspended from teaching, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-724-6009.