A jury took less than an hour Thursday to find a Virginia elementary school teacher and high school soccer coach not guilty of sexually assaulting a student, the defendant's lawyer said.
Attorney Peter Greenspun said Sean Lanigan's first goal is to get back to coaching. A physical education teacher at Center Ridge Elementary School in Centreville, Lanigan had coached the Herndon High School boys soccer team the past two seasons and was planning to return this spring for a third before his arrest in the winter.
In January, a girl said she and a small group of students were helping Lanigan clean up the gym when he picked her up, touched her inappropriately and carried her into a nearby room. She also accused him of pushing her down and getting on top of her when she tried to leave.
Lanigan was charged with abduction and aggravated sexual battery of a juvenile under the age of 13. The 12-year-old accuser testified that Lanigan carried her into an equipment room and placed his hand on her breast and buttocks, the Associated Press reported. On cross-examination, though, the girl admitted that she had a grudge against Lanigan because he had threatened to discipline her for bullying.
The jury didn't find there was enough evidence to convict Lanigan.
Lanigan told News4's Jackie Bensen he is not bitter about the accusations and he is sympathetic to his accuser.
"I am an educator and I love children," he said. "We have to keep in mind that she's a 12-year-old girl."
Lanigan, who had taught at Center Ridge since 1998, was suspended without pay during investigations by police and the school district. School officials could not say whether Lanigan would return to his old job at Centre Ridge.
He has not been cleared by the league nor the county to return to coaching, but he expects such clearance will come soon.
Many parents who knew Lanigan quickly stepped up to defend him, saying he's incapable of the behavior of which he was accused, The Fairfax Times reported.