A former elementary school teacher accused of child molestation no longer faces criminal charges, a judge ruled Friday.
Robert Noel Anderson, who at one time faced the possibility of a life in prison, was surprised and relieved to learn of the decision.
“A nightmare hopefully now is over,” said Anderson.
A full year behind bars took a toll on Anderson. Facing 12 counts of child molestation, the former teacher at Dehesa Elementary School teacher spent his 59th birthday in jail. He lost 20 pounds.
But on Friday, he walked out of the County Courthouse in El Cajon a free man.
In a move that surprised even his defense attorney, the district attorney decided to dismiss the case after a jury could not reach a verdict in the case on Sept. 16.
The alleged incidents happened between 2003 and 2013. Nine former students took the stand during the trial, alleging Anderson had touched them inappropriately.
But defense attorney Kerry Armstrong argued the details in the alleged victim’s stories had changed over the years.
“I do not think Mr. Anderson touched any of those girls in an inappropriate way. And I’ll go to my grave feeling that,” said Armstrong. “I’m glad they realized they would have never been able to convict Mr. Anderson.”
According to the prosecutor, the jury acquitted Anderson on one of the 12 counts. In nine other counts, the jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of Anderson’s innocence. The vote was 9-3 for two other counts.
“We certainly take child molest cases very seriously, but we also can only go forward on cases we feel we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Deputy District Attorney Chantal De Mauregne.
She said the jury vote count played a big part in the decision to dismiss the case.
“We don’t feel another jury would be able to make a unanimous decision,” said de Mauregne, citing many factors including the timing between the alleged incident and the date charges were brought.
During the brief status hearing, Anderson had about 12 supporters made up of family and former co-workers. Once outside of the courtroom, they gave a loud round of applause.
“It’s been tough because I left a career I love, and people I loved. So it’s been very difficult. The last year in jail was no fun at all,” said Anderson.