An Orange County Superior Court judge on Wednesday dismissed a misdemeanor child-annoyance case against a retired Santa Ana high school teacher and NFL running back who was accused of hugging and kissing a former student at school.
Joseph Manuel Orduna of Irvine, a former Godinez Fundamental High School biology teacher and wrestling coach, shed tears when Judge William Evans issued the ruling in Santa Ana and was "ecstatic" afterward, defense attorney David Cohn said.
"He broke down, tears, just shaking his head in his hands," Cohn said.
"You could see the tears streaming down his face as the judge granted the motion."
Deputy District Attorney Bryan Clavecilla, who could not be immediately
reached for comment, had argued for another trial.
Evans' dismissal came two days after jurors deadlocked 8-4 in favor of
acquittal, forcing a mistrial. The judge said he did not believe another trial would lead to a guilty verdict, Cohn said.
"At the very best, it would be hung again," Cohn said, noting that an
expert testified during the trial that Orduna was not interested in underage sex.
Orduna was accused of kissing a 16-year-old student on the
lips while hugging her in the hallway near his classroom in June 2011.
Further investigation led police to another girl, then 16, who contended that Orduna grabbed her buttocks while hugging her, but the misdemeanor child- annoyance charge related to that allegation was dismissed Nov. 14 before trial because she is in the Navy and was unavailable to testify.
A third student testified that the defendant touched her inappropriately when he was a middle school teacher in 2006 or 2007, though Orduna was never charged in connection with that alleged incident.
The alleged victim of the remaining charge on which jurors deadlocked
had Orduna as her teacher when she was a sophomore, according to Clavecilla, who told the panel that the alleged crime occurred near the end of her junior year.
"When Mr. Orduna was her teacher, she liked Mr. Orduna," Clavecilla
said. "She saw him as a mentor, as a father figure."
Orduna and the students would often hug, and it "started out innocently," Clavecilla said, but the teacher's "hugs started to get longer, started to get more uncomfortable."
The girl began to "go out of her way to avoid him," but on the day of
the alleged crime, he got her attention outside class in a hallway, the
"They gave each other a hug," he said, adding that when she tried to
pull away, "he grabbed her chin and tried to kiss her on the lips ... and he did kiss her lips, and she was offended."
When the girl later confided in an after-school counselor about the
alleged kiss, she was "distraught, crying," Clavecilla said.
Orduna told a Santa Ana school resource officer that the girl initiated
the hug and that he "pecked her on the lips as a reflex because she was close to his face,'' Clavecilla told the jury.
Clavecilla also alleged that while Orduna was the girl's teacher, he
would "talk in graphic detail about his sex life" during class.
Cohn told jurors Orduna was a "hugging" type of teacher.
Orduna, who taught sex education at the school, received a letter from
the 16-year-old girl in her junior year saying how "he's had a huge impact on her," Cohn said, adding that she referred to Orduna's hugs as "warm and safe."
In his sex-education classes, Orduna encouraged his students to abstain
from sex before marriage, Cohn said.
When the girl's allegation came to light, the school's principal
investigated but accepted Orduna's explanation that "their lips touched
unintentionally, completely inadvertently, and that he wished it never
happened," Cohn said.
The principal concluded that the girl was "embarrassed" that the incident
happened in front of other students, according to the attorney.
Orduna was a running back with the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts
from 1972-74 and scored a touchdown for Nebraska in the 1971 Orange Bowl victory that gave the Cornhuskers a share of the 1970 national championship.
--City News Service