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Georgia teacher found not guilty at 'dirty dancing' trial

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
Nathan Grigsby says he did not condone a group of students performing a suggestive dance in class.
Nathan Grigsby says he did not condone a group of students performing a suggestive dance in class.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prosecutor respects jury's verdict but still plans to pursue charges against teens in video
  • Jury acquits teacher Nathan Grigsby of all five misdemeanor charges
  • Students performed provocative dance in chorus class in December 2008
  • Dance routine was videotaped, posted on student's Facebook page

Decatur, Georgia (CNN) -- A former high school chorus teacher was acquitted Wednesday of criminal charges in connection with a suggestive dance routine students performed in his classroom in 2008.

Ending a two-day trial in Georgia's DeKalb County State Court, jurors found Nathan Grigsby not guilty of five misdemeanor charges of contributing to the depravation of a minor.

Grigsby's supporters, who filled one side of the courtroom, erupted into cheers outside after the verdict was read.

"I'm very excited and glad to see justice prevailed," Grigsby said. "I put my faith in God that the jury would see the truth, which is the way I told it."

No one disputed the sexual nature of the boys' dance routine, which was captured by a student's cell phone on December 11, 2008 and posted on Facebook.

Instead, the controversy lay in whether the teacher bore criminal responsibility for not stopping the routine sooner than he did, and where to draw the line between teenage misbehavior and criminal acts.

The 68-second video, which became the trial's centerpiece, showed the three teens ripping off their shirts and simulating sex acts in front of an audience of squealing female classmates. At one point, one of the boys grabbed a girl and hoisted her up as she wrapped her legs around his hips, while another boy gyrated in the face of a girl lying on the ground.

Watch the dance video on CNN affiliate WSB

DeKalb County Solicitor General Robert James contended that Grigsby did not do enough to stop the routine and condoned it by laughing and clapping along with his students.

James said he respected the jury's verdict but still believed that Grigsby had committed a crime. Given the chance to do it again, the prosecutor said he would still take the case to trial.

"People need to understand that their conduct will not go unchecked," James told reporters. "This is an issue that needed addressing."

Three of Grigsby's former students at the high school in suburban Atlanta also face public indecency charges in connection with the case. One of them testified in Grigsby's defense.

Video: Ex-teacher in court over dance
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James said Wednesday's verdict will not affect future proceedings against the teens, all of whom have since graduated from Southwest DeKalb High School.

"You had young men simulate sex acts with young women in a classroom," he said. "I do think what they did in that classroom is wrong, and they need to be held accountable."

A student involved in the dance routine, Jerramy Barnett, now 19, testified that Grigsby did not know about it ahead of time. He said the teacher had his back to the students when he turned on the music.

Barnett's parents and three brothers -- two of whom also testified for the defense -- were among the crowd of supporters keeping vigil at the courthouse during testimony and deliberations.

"I need to be here for Mr. Grigsby because he's always been there for us," a tearful Barnett said before the verdict. "Mr. Grigsby's always gone to bat for us."

After the verdict, Grigsby's lawyer advised the teen not to make any statements with the charges pending against him. But Jerramy Barnett's older brother, Justin, expressed relief for Grigsby.

"I feel like a burden's been lifted off all our shoulders," he said. "I'm happy Mr. Grigsby can move on with his life like we've been trying to."

The testimony from the Barnett brothers and several other teens mirrored Grigsby's. The teacher said he was sitting at his laptop with his headphones on and his back turned as he helped another student find music for his routine.

The six men and six women on the jury asked to view the video twice, most recently on Wednesday afternoon. With their eyes glued to a projector in the courtroom, jurors watched, took notes and nodded to each other.

James said the video was the strongest evidence against Grigsby, even though the teacher is not visible during most of it. But one witness pointed out a moment where Grigsby's knee is allegedly visible -- suggesting that he was watching and aware of what was happening.

James said students who testified for the defense had contradicted their previous statements to school authorities.

"Our contention has always been that there was a lot of peer pressure in this case, so maybe students were telling the truth initially, but after the case festered for a year their stories changed," the prosecutor said.

School administrators fired Grigsby last year, alleging that he had failed to properly supervise his students, and the State Board of Education upheld his termination. But his acquittal means he may not lose his teaching certificate.

"This was only a test," Grigsby said, adding that he would even consider returning to the school district that had fired him.

"Even when you're facing a difficult situation you have to stand for what you know is right and the truth will set you free."

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