A McLennan County jury on Tuesday cleared a former Midway Independent School District teacher’s aide of charges he had an improper sexual relationship with a student.
Jurors in 54th State District Court deliberated an hour before acquitting Michael George Benns of sexual assault of a child, improper relationship between educator and student and indecency with a child by contact charges.
Benns, 39, was fired from his job as a teacher’s aide at the Midway Alternative Education Center in February 2015, a month after the allegations surfaced. According to testimony at the two-day trial, he continued to work as a youth minister, with supervision, at the First Baptist Church NBC, 613 Jefferson Ave., and at other churches after his arrest.
The alleged victim, who was 16 at the time, testified that Benns picked her up at a Franklin Avenue restaurant and drove to a downtown church parking lot, where she performed a sex act on him. She told the jury that she pursued a relationship with Benns, didn’t want to report the incident and didn’t want to be there to testify against him because she didn’t want him to get into trouble.
A bus driver overheard the girl telling her friend about the alleged sexual encounter and reported it to school authorities. School officials called the girl’s mother and she reported it to Waco police.
The girl’s mother testified that she saw a suspicious text on her daughter’s phone and called Benns the night before she reported him to police. She told the jury that he said he didn’t mean to engage in the act with her daughter, said he was sorry and asked her not to call police.
Benns took the stand Tuesday and denied any sexual encounter with the girl, who his now 21 and has a 5-year-old son.
A number of people who attend church with Benns, including the Rev. George Harrison, senior pastor at First Baptist Church NBC, testified that Benns is a good person and a talented youth pastor.
Benns’ attorney, Michael Dahlenberg, said he was leaving the courthouse after the trial and spoke to a juror about the acquittal.
“The juror said basically that since the victim really didn’t care, that they didn’t, either,” Dahlenberg said.
Dahlenberg called the state’s case “extremely weak.”
“There was no evidence. They didn’t provide any evidence. The case was extremely weak. Of course, as a result of this, he got fired from a job he liked at Midway schools. But now that there is a judgment of acquittal, he can go on with his life. He doesn’t hold any grudges. I consider him to be a very good person and he wants to go back and be involved with his church.”
Assistant District Attorney Will Hix, who prosecuted the case with Sydney Tuggle, said the verdict is disappointing.
“We always appreciate the jurors of this county and the careful attention that was paid during this trial,” Hix said. “Our team has nothing but respect for the decision and the process of trying cases before citizen-jurors. There is always disappointment when the verdict isn’t what we expected, but we will continue to advocate for the victims of this county moving forward.”