A counselor at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria who had been found guilty of fondling a 16-year-old female student was acquitted yesterday on appeal after two other students testified that the girl had told them her accusations against the counselor were false.
The sexual battery conviction of Michael Graffeo, 47, in Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Court was overturned by a seven-member Circuit Court jury.
Graffeo, who has been on administrative leave since he was arrested in May, said he was "very relieved" by the jury's verdict. "It's just amazing this thing went on as long as it did," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do about going back to the school. I haven't decided yet."
A small group of students who supported Graffeo burst into applause when the verdict was returned. Graffeo had told police during their investigation that he believed the girl had brought the allegations against him because the two had argued.
The girl testified both at the trial June 26 when he was convicted and in Circuit Court yesterday that Graffeo fondled her during a visit to his office on April 15.
Christa Boucher, the assistant commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted Graffeo, said: "We tried the case before a jury, and that is our system. In this case, it did not help the commonwealth.
"We did extensive investigation on the case before we brought it to trial. I believe that she was telling the truth or I would not have prosecuted it. I believe she did a brave and courageous thing."
Graffeo's attorney, J. Frederick Sinclair, said after the verdict that he believed prosecutors had not behaved properly in the case. He said they were aware before Graffeo's first trial that the student had told others her allegations were false, but Graffeo was not given that information.
Boucher said the Circuit Court heard the charges of misconduct by prosecutors and found no merit in them. Graffeo filed a motion several weeks ago asking that charges against him be dismissed, Boucher said, but the court denied it.
School officials said before yesterday's verdict that if Graffeo were acquitted he would be awarded back pay for the entire time he was on leave. He has worked as a counselor at T.C. Williams for 14 years and previously worked at two other Alexandria schools.