A Marathon jury took less than an hour Tuesday to acquit a former Key Largo School teacher of two counts of misdemeanor simple battery.
Then a fifth-grade math teacher, Jose Zepeda was accused in September 2011 of touching a 12-year-old girl's leg several times and forcing her look at his groin.
"The case should have never gone to trial," said Howard Sohn, Zepeda's attorney.
Along with several students, Key Largo School Principal Julia Hoar testified on behalf of her former teacher.
Hoar has supported Zepeda since the allegation and said she was happy with the outcome. Asked if he would soon be back in one of her classrooms, she responded: "I hope so."
Hoar told police she believed the girl made the story up for not getting to go on a trip to Washington, D.C., court documents say.
School Board member Ron Martin said he would vote for Zepeda to return to the classroom.
"Based on what I know over the course of things, he'll probably get his job back," Martin said.
When Zepeda was arrested, then-Monroe County Superintendent of Schools Jesus Jara recommended his termination.
Jara was replaced by Mark Porter, who did not immediately return a phone message Thursday afternoon.
Ignoring Jara's recommendation, the School Board reassigned Zepeda to the school's maintenance division, where he still works. At the School Board meeting in 2011, many students' parents spoke on Zepeda's behalf to keep him employed. Many of those parents spoke alongside their young daughters.
Zepeda was hired Sept. 30, 2005, and was making $49,403 when arrested.
If convicted, Zepeda would have faced up to two years in jail.
According to court documents, Zepeda denied any inappropriate touching, but said he had touched the girl's leg "numerous" times during class.
After speaking with the girl's 16 classmates, a sheriff's detective wrote in a report that three of the children "had witnessed Zepeda place his hand on the victim's leg while she sat at his desk. Two of these three students indicated they had witnessed it more than once on separate dates," according to the documents.
It was unknown when the matter would be brought before the School Board.
Attempts to reach Zepeda were not successful.