Apr 20, 8:40 PM EDT

Jurors acquit man in northeast Kansas sexual assault case

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) -- A northeast Kansas jury acquitted a man Thursday of charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in a rural cemetery, deciding the first of the cases against him to go to trial in a 3,300-resident town divided over the allegations.

The Jackson County jury of seven woman and five men found Jacob Ewing not guilty of charges of aggravated indecent liberties and aggravated criminal sodomy with a child under 14 years old.

Ewing, 22, still faces trials on charges alleging that he sexually assaulted five women. Ewing has entered not guilty pleas in those cases.

During the four-day trial that ended Thursday, the teenager testified that Ewing sodomized her in 2014 while she pleaded for him to stop. A defense witness testified that the girl later bragged about the experience.

After the verdict, Ewing attorney Kathleen Ambrosio said she was "overwhelmingly pleased."

"If (jurors) parsed through the evidence carefully, they realized there wasn't enough evidence and that he did not do this," the Topeka Capital-Journal quoted Ambrosio as adding, having told jurors hours earlier during closing arguments that the accuser "can't tell a straight story."

Jacquie Spradling, the special prosecutor, cited the trial's testimony in telling jurors that "this is a textbook case of sexual assault."

"Why in the world would she make this up?" Spradling told the panel. "What does she get out of it? She came forward to report these two things because they happened to her."

After the verdict, Spradling said, "I respect the jury's service and the jury system. So I will accept their verdict."

Finding jurors this week whose minds weren't made up about Ewing's guilt or innocence in the case involving the teenager was a struggle in Holton. About half of the 142 people who were part of the pool of prospective jurors raised their hands when asked whether they know Ewing or his family. Answers differed wildly when they were asked whether they could find Ewing guilty if the allegations could be proven.

One prospective juror said, "If she steps out and looks like she's 18 years old, that's on her. That's just how I feel about it." Another potential juror said he was leaning toward a not guilty verdict because the alleged victim's father should have kept a closer eye on her. Others questioned the alleged victim's home life and said that would be a factor in determining the veracity of her claims.

Allegations against Ewing also sparked a federal lawsuit that a judge dismissed last month. In that lawsuit, former senior detective Al Dunn alleged he was fired for refusing to end an investigation of Ewing. The suit claimed Jackson County Sheriff Tim Morse faced complaints from Ewing's family and friends who believed they could influence Morse's bid for re-election. Morse has called the claims "baseless" and "ludicrous."

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