WILKES-BARRE — A jury on Wednesday found suspended Hanover Area teacher Edward Evans not guilty of having sex with a student, but the foreman said he would have added something else when reading the verdict.
“I wanted to say, ‘We the jury find the defendant very stupid, but not guilty,’” Jeff Lotz told a reporter after the proceedings.
Evans, 34, of Hanover Township, was accused of taking an 18-year-old male student to his home on the afternoon of March 10, 2013, where they performed oral sex on each other and masturbated. Police applied a recently changed law to charge the social studies teacher at Hanover Area junior-senior high school with institutional sexual assault, even though the student was legally an adult.
Testimony in his trial began and ended Tuesday, and jurors deliberated for more than an hour on Wednesday morning following closing statements by defense attorney William Ruzzo and Assistant District Attorney Jenny Roberts.
Evans declined comment after the verdict, referring questions to Ruzzo, who said his client hopes to get his job back.
Evans, whose mother Evelyn is school board president, was suspended indefinitely without pay after being charged in January.
Hanover Area Superintendent Andrew Kuhl said the district will not take any action regarding Evans until it looks at all the information in the case.
“As a result of the not guilty verdict, The Hanover Area School District will reevaluate the matter, including a detailed examination of the evidence put forth in the criminal trial, which was not made available to Hanover Area previously due to the confidentiality of the criminal investigation,” Kuhl wrote in an emailed statement. “The health, safety and welfare of our students is of paramount importance. As such, while the Hanover Area School District respects the rights of Edward Evans, we wish to make sure that the rights and safety of our students are protected as well.”
Foreman Lotz, of Conyngham, said he coaches female students and would never take one of them home.
“He’s stupid,” Lotz said of Evans.
But the case hinged on who was telling the truth, and there was reasonable doubt all around during deliberations, he added.
“Not one of us could ascertain if anything ever happened,” Lotz said.
On the witness stand Tuesday, Evans of Hanover Township, testified he called the student, picked him up and drove him to his house in order to give him pamphlets and information about sexually transmitted diseases, HIV testing and other medical concerns the openly gay student had.
“I did not have sex with him,” Evans said.
The accuser, now 19, said he and Evans had sex and the teacher told him on the drive home, “Don’t kiss and tell.”
In his testimony he said the day after going to Evans’ house he stopped by the office of guidance counselor, Michelle Zapotoski, to show her hickeys on his neck that came from “Eddie.”
When Zapotoski reported that to her superiors, as she was legally required to do, the student denied that there was any sexual contact between him and Evans. He said he told the truth nine months later in December when he was contacted by police after the issue arose during a personnel grievance connected to Evans.
Criminal charges against Evans were filed the following month.
Assistant District Attorney Jenny Roberts said the DA’s office and the victim are disappointed with the verdict.
“This obviously was a very unique case where the victim came forward and then recanted the statement and then came forward again,” she said. Knowing that, there was no hesitation on the prosecution’s part to move forward with the case, she said.
Roberts who along with Hanover Township Detective Sgt. Dean Stair prosecuted the case, said she hopes the verdict “doesn’t deter anyone from actually coming forward in the future.”
She reiterated the prosecution’s position that “it was beyond bad judgment to take a student into your house and into your bedroom.”
In her closing statement, Roberts explained why the student lied.
The student trusted Evans and considered him a friend, she said. They chatted in the halls and exchanged phone numbers, she added. He was devastated and recanted, when on notification of the guidance counselor to school administrators, he was called into the principal’s office. “That lie made sense,” Roberts said.
The student too, admitted he lied at first to protect Evans’ job.
But he came forward later because the lie bothered him and he told the truth, she said.
Evans, on the other hand, lied to protect himself, the prosecutor maintained. Evans could have given the pamphlets to the student in an envelope or in his car the day he picked him up, she said.
But Evans took steps, including making sure that no one else was home when he brought the student back to his house, she said. Evans said he lived with his sister and she went out for dinner with her boyfriend at the time.
Evans ‘too good’
The real victim is Evans, Ruzzo said, adding he’s lost his reputation in the community, although the acquittal maintains his freedom, the attorney said.
Ruzzo cast Evans as a caring teacher who did what others in his profession have been doing for years.
“He took an interest in a student,” Ruzzo said. “He made the mistake of being too good.”
Ruzzo found nothing out of the ordinary with them meeting at Evans’ house.
“Back in the ancient times when I was in high school, it wasn’t that unusual. I know that our football coach used to have our quarterback at his house a lot,” Ruzzo said.
Even Ruzzo’s son confided in his high school coach, the late Mickey Gorham of Meyers. And Ruzzo said when he was a teacher, he took an interest and helped his students.
The case came down to credibility, the defense attorney said. “The complainant here just was not credible,” Ruzzo said.
Ruzzo took issue with Roberts calling the student by his first name throughout the two-day trial. She did it to give the jury the impression that he was “some poor kid,” Ruzzo said.
“He’s not a poor kid. He should be a responsible adult. He could be in Afghanistan today. That’s the injustice of it all,” Ruzzo said.