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Molest Charges Dismissed Against Track Coach

Second jury deadlocks over whether Vernon Brent Smith, 52, fondled five girls on his El Toro High School team.

October 22, 1999|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former El Toro High School track coach accused of molesting his athletes will not face a third trial, Orange County district attorney's officials said Thursday.

Two juries in less than a year failed to reach verdicts on 11 counts against Vernon Brent Smith, 52.

The second jury deadlocked Wednesday after little more than a day of deliberations. The first jury reached a similar stalemate last December.

"Mr. Smith was vindicated," said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jeremy Goldman. "When you have two juries that cannot reach a guilty verdict, that is vindication."

Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan dismissed the charges against Smith on Thursday morning after prosecutor Scott Simmons announced that he would not seek a third trial.

"We gave everything we had for the two trials," Simmons said. "Our belief is that there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction if we try again."

Smith was not available for comments Thursday. Goldman said Smith continues to coach track and field through a private organization, the Vernon Smith Infinity Track Club in Mission Viejo.

Authorities accused Smith of fondling five of his female athletes, ages 15 to 17, in 1996 and 1997 while working as an assistant coach at the school in Lake Forest. Goldman said the case was one of Smith's word against those of his accusers.

"There were no supporting witnesses, no physical evidence," Goldman said.

Smith testified during trial that he sometimes massaged his athletes to heal injuries and hugged them as a sign of encouragement, but there was never any sexual intent.

The jury in the first trial deadlocked amid charges of racial tensions among jurors, including the black foreman. Smith is African American, and all his accusers are white.

The second jury was all white, and race was not raised as an issue, Goldman said.

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