Former Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura was acquitted tonight of sexually assaulting a former baby-sitter at a drunken party.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for 2 hours 15 minutes before finding Chmura innocent on charges of third-degree sexual assault and child enticement. The charges carried a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and $20,000 in fines.
Chmura cried as Waukesha County Circuit Judge Mark Gempeler read the verdicts. A group of about 50 people waiting outside the courtroom broke into cheers when Chmura left the courtroom.
"We're on top of the world," defense attorney Gerald Boyle said.
Chmura made a brief statement, his wife, Lynda, at his side, thanking the jurors. He planned a news conference for Sunday afternoon.
"I'd like to thank the jury for taking in all the evidence, seeing what happened and then rendering their decision," Chmura said.
One juror, a woman, cried as Gempeler read the verdicts. The jury left shortly after the verdicts were read without speaking to reporters.
District Attorney Paul Bucher also left without talking to reporters.
Chmura's accuser, who used to baby-sit for Chmura's two sons, was not in the courtroom.
The teenager accused Chmura, 31, of pulling her into a bathroom during an April 9 post-prom party at his friend Robert Gessert's Hartland, Wis., home, pulling down her pants and having sex with her without her consent.
Boyle contended Chmura's accuser was lying and made the story up because she disliked Chmura. Chmura did not testify.
Another teen at the party, Waukesha Catholic football player Michael Kleber, testified he warned Chmura's accuser not to go into the bathroom because Chmura was in there. Kleber also testified the teenager went into the bathroom willingly, flashing him a smile.
Kleber, an all-state offensive tackle, said he idolized Chmura and followed him to the bathroom door.
Boyle said tonight that Kleber's testimony turned the case.
"This Kleber boy, what a credit to the younger generation," Boyle said.
Chmura's accuser testified she disliked the former NFL star because he made suggestive remarks to her and had hit on her when she baby-sat his children, once giving her a $20 tip because she was cute. She also testified both she and Chmura were drunk at the party, which Gessert's daughter held after her high school prom. A nurse who examined the teen later that day testified injuries Chmura's accuser suffered were consistent with sexual assault.
A nurse and a doctor specializing in sexual assault examinations testified for the defense that the injuries to the teen could have been caused by something else, such as wet clothes or an ill-fitting bathing suit. The teen had testified she borrowed a swim suit to go into a hot tub at the party. The nurse also testified she would have expected Chmura to have similar injuries. An examination the day after the party showed he had none.
Before tonight's verdict, the jurors heard blistering closing arguments from the opposing lawyers who portrayed the football player as either a rapist or victim.
"Give Mark Chmura back his soul," Boyle urged. He said the football star was the victim of a prosecution run amok, determined to label Chmura "a rapist and pedophile," and willing to ignore contradictory evidence and testimony in the process.
Chmura, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, appeared in two straight Super Bowls with Green Bay, but missed most of the 1999 season with a neck injury. The team released him in June. John Drana, Chmura's personal attorney, said Chmura has been given medical clearance to play again.