Jury clears former prison guard of sexually abusing inmate

A Pennsylvania jury has cleared a former prison guard of sexually abusing a female inmate

SCRANTON, Pa. -- A Pennsylvania jury cleared a former prison guard on Thursday of sexually abusing a female inmate.

George McHale, 51, was among seven former guards at Lackawanna County Prison to be charged after a grand jury found what it described as a culture of sexual coercion and cover-up at the jail in Scranton. He was the first to go to trial.

Jurors deliberated for about two hours Thursday before finding McHale not guilty of coercing an inmate to perform a sex act on him while he stood outside her cell in 2009.

McHale, who testified in his own defense and denied the accusation, buried his head and cried as the verdict was read, The (Scranton) Times-Tribune reported .

His 49-year-old accuser told jurors that McHale made her fondle him through a slot in the cell door. She said she didn't tell anyone at the prison because she was afraid of retaliation.

The defense called the woman a liar, hinting she had motive to falsely accuse McHale because she had been a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against Lackawanna County. The woman was subsequently dismissed from the civil case because the statute of limitations expired.

"This case is about theft. The theft of a good man's reputation ... and a hardworking husband and father's future," defense attorney Joseph Toczydlowski told jurors on Thursday. "Don't let that theft happen."

Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Elo acknowledged the woman had a long rap sheet, but told jurors that made her the type of person a sexual predator would seek out as a victim.

"These crimes are committed against vulnerable people who no one will believe," she said in her closing argument.