After a brief deliberation, jurors voted unanimously Friday to acquit former Roaring Fork High School teacher William Vetter of charges of sexual assault.
“None of us had a clue of what anybody else was thinking about the case,” said juror Jane Hendricks of Carbondale. “We just voted and everybody agreed he was not guilty. So we never did need to discuss it.”
“I owe them a new beginning, a new life,” said a grateful Vetter after the jury rendered its verdict Friday afternoon, at the close of the weeklong trial. “I get to start over from here.”
Vetter was accused by a former student of kindling and carrying on a sexual affair with her in 1997 while she served as a manager for the baseball team he coached and later as his student aide.
The student’s story played well while she was questioned on the witness stand by prosecutors. But her story fell apart under cross-examination by Vetter’s defense team, said his attorney, Suzanne Rogers.
“She couldn’t remember anything that might show she was not telling the truth,” Rogers said.
“I realized, we all realized, it was a just a matter of credibility. Who do you believe?” Hendricks said.
District Attorney Mac Myers said later that sexual assault cases are “the most difficult kind of crime in which to win convictions.”
“The very nature of sexual assault is a one-on-one situation. You’re looking for circumstantial evidence to corroborate what the child says. With the observations of other students and her friends, and the DNA evidence, we felt the case was very compelling,” Myers said.
DNA experts from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation testified that bodily fluids found on the carpet in Vetter’s home could clearly be identified as his semen and were consistent with the student’s DNA.
“What the evidence said is it’s not a match. It is consistent with the DNA of [the student], but we can’t exclude his wife, Michelle Vetter, as a contributor,” Rogers told the jury in her closing arguments. “It’s a mix, and they cannot say when it was deposited, or even if it was deposited at the same time.”
The case marked the first time that new DNA technology has been used in a trial in the Ninth Judicial District. Myers said it will be used more often in the future in spite of the outcome of this case.
“Jan Hindman [a deputy district attorney] has done a lot of foundation work to get that kind of evidence admitted. We’re ready to go with DNA, and a year ago we weren’t,” Myers said.
But jurors may not yet be ready to buy DNA evidence, particularly when it contradicts a message repeated over and over by witnesses.
Hendricks said the DNA test results “was the only evidence in the case,” and she said it simply wasn’t strong enough to override the rest of the trial’s testimony.
Meanwhile, William Vetter and his family look forward to getting their lives back on track. His parents and sister, his wife and her parents and other relatives and friends sat with him through the trial and never wavered in their support.
“I’m just glad to have a chance to start living my life like I always wanted to,” Vetter said. “I don’t have that black cloud over my head. I can go around town and not have people wondering.”
He has lost a year of his life since his arrest on Jan. 3, 1998, and his professional relationship with the Roaring Fork RE-1 School District appears to be beyond repair.
“Part of me – I guess I’m just competitive enough – wants to go back [to teaching at Roaring Fork] just to say they didn’t kick me out. But I don’t think that would work. It’s pretty obvious that I don’t have good feelings for the high administrators in the district,” Vetter said.
As a teacher, he feels burned.
“There’s no way, coming out of this, that I could teach again. I know 99 percent of the kids out there are good. It’s the other 1 percent that scares me,” he said.
While he still agrees with the laws that protect students from the sexual advances of teachers, he called for legislative review aimed at balancing the situation for teachers who are unfairly accused.
“It was unfortunate to get caught up in a scenario that wasn’t checked out real well to start with,” Vetter said.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.