Former Connecticut College cook Jose A. Lopez lost his job last year after two women came forward to say that he had groped them in the college dining hall, but on Tuesday he learned he will keep his freedom.
A jury of six women found Lopez, 46, of Waterford not guilty of third-degree sexual assault, fourth-degree sexual assault and unlawful restraint following a trial in New London Superior Court that featured testimony from the two alleged victims, college officials, a police detective and Lopez himself.
Lopez and 11 family members and friends who had waited for the verdict since Monday hugged one another and wept after the jury foreperson said “not guilty” to each of the charges. In taking his case to trial, he turned down an offer to plead guilty in exchange for a short prison sentence followed by years of strict probation and registration as a sex offender.
Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed discharged Lopez and thanked the jury for its decision, saying that a verdict inevitably gratifies one party and displeases another.
Defense attorney Pamala Favreau accepted thanks from Lopez and his family and left the courthouse quickly.
“I appreciate the difficult task those jurors had, and we’re grateful,” Favreau said.
Prosecutor Sarah E. Steere declined to comment. She said Victim Advocate LeeAnn Vertefeuille was contacting the two complainants to let them know the outcome of the case.
Lopez lost the kitchen job that he had held for eight years after a college senior and a woman in her mid-20s reported last spring that he had touched them sexually in the college’s Harris Dining Hall. Both women testified at the trial that they were shocked that Lopez, whom they considered a friend, had touched them inappropriately. One of the women said Lopez pinned her in a dining booth and roughly caressed her over her pants. The other testified that he reached into her pants and touched her while she stood in the dining room.
Favreau aggressively cross-examined both of the alleged victims, revealing to the jury that Lopez, who worked with the older woman’s mother, had once filed a complaint that the mother appeared to be “watching him” all the time.
Lopez testified on his own behalf and denied sexually assaulting the women. He said he taught his sons to be respectful to women and treats “everyone the same.”
The jury started deliberating Monday afternoon after asking for a reading of the testimony of the former student and Lopez.
Connecticut College officials could not immediately be reached to comment about the verdict. Mindful that colleges need to respond appropriately to complaints of sexual assault, the college has a Coordinated University Response Team that is chaired by the director of sexual violence prevention and advocacy, a position that was initially funded by a federal grant but is now supported by the college.