A well-spoken and assertive Diana O'Neill spent nearly four hours arguing her innocence Friday before a jury found her not guilty of four child abuse charges.
The former Venice Elementary School special education teacher sat with her hands folded as the clerk read off each of the counts and the jury's not-guilty decision. After jurors left the room, O'Neill cried and hugged her husband.
The parents of the students she was accused of abusing sat on the other side of the courtroom Friday holding hands and hugging each other before the jury announced its verdict.
Some of them sobbed after the jury left the courtroom. One grandmother asked whether the verdict meant O'Neill could keep teaching. They all declined to comment.
Friday's verdict closes the criminal case against O'Neill, but not everything has been resolved.
The school district must decide whether to give O'Neill her old job back and the state could still revoke her teaching license.
Additionally, the parents of the children O'Neill was accused of abusing have hired attorneys and said they intend to sue the school district.
While criminal courts must prove beyond a reasonable doubt a defendant's guilt, the standard is much lower for school districts or the state to revoke a teacher's license.