A former Leesburg lawyer who spent four years behind bars on charges that he sexually abused his children was freed Thursday after being acquitted in a retrial.
Bruce McLaughlin, 50, said he was thankful for the jury's verdict and hoped to reintroduce himself slowly into his children's lives.
"Justice was done," McLaughlin said, "not just for me but, more importantly, for four innocent children."
In 1998, McLaughlin was convicted in Loudoun County Circuit Court on charges of molesting three of his four children. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
In 2000, the Virginia Department of Social Services determined that the accusations were unfounded. Last December, a state judge ordered a new trial after finding that McLaughlin's trial lawyers failed to present evidence that could have helped his defense.
In a week-long retrial that began Dec. 2, McLaughlin's defense team argued that his wife persuaded the children to fabricate the stories of abuse because the couple was in the midst of a bitter divorce and McLaughlin had recently admitted to having an affair.
Three of McLaughlin's children testified, as did medical and psychological experts. The jury deliberated for nearly 10 hours over two days before acquitting him on seven counts Wednesday.
McLaughlin's attorney, Alex Levay, said the case marks the first time a Virginia court has allowed significant testimony concerning susceptibility of children to suggestion. A Johns Hopkins University professor testified that children can "incorporate into their own memories things that are suggested to them," Levay said.
Levay said that throughout the trial preparation, McLaughlin refused to consider the possibility of a plea bargain.
"He really had a lot of perseverance throughout the process, and he stuck to his principle that he wasn't going to do anything but be vindicated," Levay said.
Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson expressed disappointment Friday with the verdict.
"I agreed with the first verdict, and I respected it," he said. "I disagree with the second verdict, but I still respect it."
Although the criminal case has ended, more court battles are to come. McLaughlin has filed a lawsuit against Anderson in Loudoun County Circuit Court and a lawsuit in Fairfax County Circuit Court against a nurse who examined the children. Both suits are pending.
McLaughlin, who surrendered his law license and lost custody of his children, said he will live with relatives for now. He has filed a motion seeking visitation with the boys, ages 13 and 16, and the twin girls, 11.
"I want to go slow with the children," he said. "I want to be mindful of their needs."