A 44-year old former McHenry East High School teacher was acquitted on charges today of taking a photo up a female student’s skirt in May.
Thomas Eggert, of McHenry, said “Thank you, you’re honor” then turned to hug his wife after the judge said he was not guilty of using an iPhone to take lewd photos of the 16-year-old girl.
During an assembly held in the school’s auditorium on May 6, when Eggert was to be taking photos of exhibits in the World’s Fair assembly, two female students reported they saw Eggert use his iPhone to take the photos. The alleged victim was sitting in a display, described in court as a pool, just feet away from him, the girls said.
When an associate principal asked Eggert for his phone he lied and said he did not have it on him. Surveillance cameras inside the school captured him going into his classroom and after 90 seconds reemerging with his cell phone. He then handed it over, prosecutors said.
Assistant State’s Atty Robert Ladd said that all the photos of the day were deleted. Those deleted photos were never recovered.
After the state rested Friday morning, the second day of the two-day bench trial, Eggert’s defense attorney Dan Hoffman said his client did not wish to testify. Hoffman, who cross examined the state’s witnesses on Thursday, did not present a defense.
In closing arguments, Ladd said the two witnesses said they saw Eggert standing about two feet away from the alleged victim and that he zoomed in under the girls skirt focused in on her underwear. One witness said she saw him using two thumbs to work his phone’s photo application to take the “under skirt” photo then swipe it to the bottom of the frame of the phone. The girl said she saw the picture of the student’s underwear on Eggert’s phone.
Ladd said the witnesses had no bias against Eggert to make these accusations. The alleged victim said for the last three years in high school Eggert was always friendly with her. But the day after the alleged incident he grew cold toward her. “He iced her out,” Ladd said adding he treated her this way because Eggert felt shame over what he had done. “He violated the innocence and trust of a 16-year-old girl,” Ladd said.
But Hoffman countered that Eggert was standing about five feet away from the girl and was holding his phone elbows high while taking photos, not an angle where an “up skirt” photo could be taken. He also said the alleged victim was not sitting in a way that such a photo of her underwear could be captured. He also said the two witnesses were inconsistent and could not remember details and one in particular seemed overly “dramatic.”
Eggert admitted on May 9 to deleting photos and other data from his phone on that day before handing it over. But, Hoffman said, that it is Eggert’s right to maintain his privacy and what had been deleted was not related to the accusations against him. “(He) had a legitimate interest in not turning over his phone,” Hoffman said. “There were other things on the phone he didn’t want exposed. He told (authorities) he deleted other things from his phone.”
Judge Robert A. Wilbrandt said though Eggert lied about having his phone on his person when the associate principal asked him for it, then went to his classroom and deleted photos from his phone before turning it over, the witness testimony seemed ambiguous. He also said though Eggert was unprofessional for lying about where his phone was, the state did not prove evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
As the alleged victim and her parents walked out of the courtroom the father threatened Eggert. “I’ll see you around,” the man said pointing at Eggert. A male supporter of Eggerts then lodged into a oral confrontation with the man. The alleged victim and her parents were escorted out by security guards.
As Eggert left the courthouse, he said: “I want it clearly stated: I am innocent of all these charges and that is it.”