Jurors who acquitted a Camarillo High School drama teacher of making sexual overtures to students said Thursday that the teacher's remarks appeared to be "off the cuff" comments not intended as sexual advances.
During the trial, female students testified that teacher William Fisher had frequently made comments such as "I would die to see what's under your shirt" and "Do you put out?"
"These types of comments were made regularly by the students in the class," said juror Arnold Peterson, 30, of Simi Valley. "It was just the normal bantering. A lot of the comments made were inappropriate for a teacher to make to a student, but did he mean something by it? Maybe, but I doubt it.
". . . They were just funny innuendoes that were said and not really thought about."
Fisher, 42, who went on trial two weeks ago on eight counts of "annoying or molesting a child," was found innocent of five of the charges Wednesday afternoon. The jury deadlocked on a sixth charge, which the judge dismissed. Two other charges were dropped during the trial for lack of evidence.
The seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated for 10 hours before returning the verdicts.
"There was just not enough real ground-floor evidence brought forth," said juror Harold Johnson, 59, of Oxnard. "It was all speculation . . . and we couldn't convict someone on mere speculation."
Wanda Maciorski of Westlake Village said Fisher "was just joking around."
Citing witnesses who testified about the frequent levity in the drama class, she said: "It was a fun class, and they had fun talking."
Juror Roger Warner, 70, of Oxnard said he thought that some of the girls who testified may have lied. "It's hard to say, and we went around and around about it," Warner said. "But it was like there was a big conspiracy against him."
Maciorski suggested that the poor grade one witness had received in Fisher's class may have mushroomed into a campaign against the teacher.
"A group can get it in for you, and you're in a lot of trouble," she said. "I don't know that they were lying, but sometimes things get blown up. You get to talking about it enough, and you believe it."
Peterson said he didn't doubt the witnesses' sincerity. "I don't think they're liars. They just picked some of the things he said and tried to make something that wasn't."
Camarillo High School Principal Donald Bathgate said he was disappointed by the verdict.
"His actions and comments were inappropriate. They were before, they are now and they always will be," Bathgate said. "Based on the information, he was out of line . . . and deserved to be turned over to the authorities."
Bathgate would not comment on whether Fisher, who had been suspended pending the outcome of the case, will be reinstated at the high school. The district's director of personnel could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Meanwhile, Fisher said he is considering a new career, teaching acting at the college or professional level.