A jury acquitted a Monrovia man of nine counts of sexual abuse Friday after he was accused of rape and molestation by five former Duarte elementary school students.
Wade Joseph Bughman whispered "thank you" to his two attorneys after Superior Court Judge Dorothy Shubin read the not guilty verdicts on each of the nine charged counts of sexual abuse at 11 a.m. Friday.
"I am so thankful and relieved, after two-and-a-half years, to hear 'not guilty' next to crimes I did not commit," Bughman said in an interview outside the courtroom.
Leonard Levine, one of Bughman's two attorneys, said that he was "thrilled" with the verdict.
"We believe an innocent man has been exonerated," Levine said.
Levine maintained in court that the five girls who accused Bughman of crimes including forcible rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object were lying. He said after the verdict that his client passed several polygraph tests that were inadmissible in court.
"If he didn't do it, either they lied about it or someone else did it," Levine said.
Bughman was arrested in June of 2010 after a student accused him of sexual misconduct in a school survey.
The jury began deliberations on Nov. 29 and reached a verdict Friday morning after an alternate juror took the place of an ill juror on Thursday. The trial began on Oct. 16.
Bughman was also found not guilty of four lesser counts of battery related to the alleged abuse.
A family member of one of the alleged victims was visibly upset outside the courtroom and was led away before Bughman exited. Family members of the alleged victims, seated on the right side of the courtroom gallery, cried quietly as each verdict was read. Bughman's friends and family, seated on the left side, also visibly wept.
Deputy District Attorney Debra Archuleta said that she was "shocked" by the verdict.
"Frankly I am shocked," Archuleta said. "We had an abundance of evidence. We had [evidence of] 15 years of sexual abuse with girls who didn't even know each other."
"It frightens me that he can potentially be back in a classroom with children knowing what we know," she added.
Bughman said he was unsure if he would return to teaching.
"I don't know what the future holds for me but now that I'm free I look forward to figuring that out," he said.