Maryland

UPDATE: Former Stephen Decatur HS teacher acquitted of sex abuse

UPDATE: Former Stephen Decatur HS...

SNOW HILL, Md. - A former Stephen Decatur High School teacher on trial for the sex abuse of a minor was acquitted Tuesday afternoon.

Austin Martin, 27, was facing one count of sex abuse of a minor following inappropriate text messages exchanged between him and a former student who was 17-years-old at the time.

John Phoebus, an attorney for Martin, made it clear Tuesday the relationship between his client and the student was "wrong, but not criminal".

"He's extremely relieved. He's thankful. Facing criminal charges like is an awful, horrible thing," says Phoebus.

At the center of this case were text messages exchanged between Martin and the student between June 2016 and November 2016.

The Office of the Worcester County State's Attorney argued Martin took advantage of his position as a teacher. During opening statements Tuesday, a prosecutor argued texts started casual but grew to be sexually explicit.

During the defense's opening statements, Phoebus told the jury Martin's actions were immoral; however, he noted the bulk of texts deemed inappropriate, like ones regarding the student's physical appearance and exchanged photos, happened during the summer.

According to state prosecutors, there were more than 3,500 text messages and a total of 39 photos exchanged between Martin and the student.

"The law in the case is very clear, that a teacher...even if they engage in a wrong behavior during the summer...is not considered under the law to be a teacher," explains Phoebus.

Majority of the testimony heard on Tuesday came from the victim, who is now 18.

She testified she had met Martin as a freshman; however, they grew closer by her junior year at Stephen Decatur. She told the court she had viewed him "like a therapist", confiding personal issues. 

47ABC reached out to the Worcester County State's Attorney's office following the decision. A request for a comment was not immediately returned.

Carrie Sterrs, a spokesperson for Worcester County Public Schools, confirms Martin was terminated as of December 2016.


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