Update: Former Stockbridge school counselor acquitted of sexual assault charges
PITTSFIELD - Scott M. Muir, a former counselor at both the Stockbridge Plain and the Muddy Brook Elementary schools, was found not guilty on Tuesday afternoon of all 19 charges relating to the alleged sexual assaults of young girls from 2003 to 2006.
Muir, 39, of Stockbridge, was accused of sexually abusing five young girls between the ages of 8 and 10 during that time span. Nineteen times, the jury foreman repeated "not guilty" in rendering the verdicts on Tuesday afternoon in Berkshire Superior Court. Muir initially was charged with 20 counts, but one count of attempted sexual assault and battery was not brought forward.
Several of Muir's alleged victims, their families and friends, cried in frustration as each "not guilty" was read. Muir's immediate family, including his father, Ronald Muir, also wept as the verdicts were read.
After accepting congratulatory hugs from his family and friends, Muir declined comment following the trial and deferred questions to his attorney, William A. Rota.
"He can speak for me," Muir said of Rota.
Prosecutor Joseph Yorlono declined comment after the trial was completed.
One relative of one of the five victims, who declined to be named, called the trial was a "miscarriage of justice," and said she believed the jury was more sympathetic to Muir than to his victims. Rota, for his part, did not necessarily disagree. He cited the decision to put Muir on the stand at the end of the six-day trial as a key element. Muir testified for two hours and seemed to answer all the questions put to him in a forthright manner.
"I think it was a factor," Rota said. "He didn't have to [take the stand] and the jury knew it. He's a very honest guy and he had a chance to directly tell the jury his story. I think he did a great job."
The jury took about 94 minutes to reach its decision. Several court officials expressed surprise at the relative brevity of their deliberations. The seven men and five women of that panel had been given the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday, if need be, to discuss the case by Judge Daniel Ford.
"I was surprised myself," Rota said. "But we are very satisfied that the jury reached the decision they did. It confirms our faith in the system, and now Mr. Muir can return to his normal life."
Muir and his former employer, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, still face a civil suit brought by the five victims for alleged sexual harassment.
The two lawyers spelled out their respective positions during the morning's summation.
Rota told the jury that the case is about five accusers' claims of sexual assault. But, he said, "that's all we have -- accusations. What they had to say simply doesn't add up."
Rota cited the overcrowding of the Stockbridge Plain School in 2003-05, when students from four schools were folded into the building before an eventual move the Muddy Brook.
He added that the overcrowding generated heavy traffic in front of Muir's office, but no one except the victims saw anything. Rota attacked each victim's testimony, noting the inconsistencies in each.
And he conceded that Muir had young girls in his lap, even after the district warned him against it.
"It probably wasn't a smart thing to do, was it?" said Rota. "And perhaps he was wrong, but it wasn't illegal."
Yorlono told the jury that while Muir insisted that he put girls on his lap to comfort them, none of the five victims testified they were upset and needed such comforting.
Yorlono added that Rota's claims that the details of the victims' individual assaults were not relevant.
They weren't focused on the office or the furniture," he said. "They were focused on the abuse."