Ending a two-day trial in DeKalb County State Court, jurors found Nathan Grigsby not guilty of five misdemeanor charges of contributing to the depravation of a minor and being a party to public indecency.
Outside the courtroom, Grigsby's supporters erupted in cheers.
The case raised questions about where to draw the line between teenage misbehavior and criminal acts -- and how much responsibility a teacher bears for such conduct.
Dekalb County Solicitor General Robert James contended that Grigsby did not do enough to stop the routine and condoned the incident by laughing and clapping along with his students.
Three of Grigsby's former students also face public indecency charges in connection with the case. One of them testified in Grigsby's defense.
No one disputed the sexual nature of the boys' dance routine; a video was widely viewed by students and faculty members. Instead, the controversy lay in whether the teacher's actions were criminal.
The trial's centerpiece was the 68-second video, captured by a student's cell phone on December 11, 2008 and posted on Facebook. Jurors viewed it twice, the second time in slow motion.
As the song "Meeting in my Bedroom" played, the three teens were caught on camera gyrating as other students shouted and cheered. The boys took off their shirts, and two of the dancers briefly dropped their pants. Some of the female students were groped.
A student involved in the dance routine, Jerramy Barnett, now 19, testified that Grigsby did not know about it ahead of time. He said the teacher had his back to the students when he turned on the music.
Barnett's brother, Nicholas, who also witnessed the routine, said Grisgy appeared to not pay attention for most of the video before he turned around and stopped the music.
The testimony from the brothers and several other teens mirrored Grigsby's, who said he was sitting at his laptop with his headphones on and his back turned while he helped another student find music for his song. The class had been engaging in an "American Idol"-style competition.
The jury asked to view the video twice, most recently on Wednesday afternoon. Their eyes glued to a projector in the courtroom, jurors watched, took notes and nodded to each other during moments where Grigsby appeared in the shot.
James said the video was the strongest evidence against Grigsby, even though he is not visible for most of it. But one witness pointed out a moment where Grigsby's knee is allegedly visible -- suggesting that he was watching and aware of what was happening.
James said students who testified for the defense had contradicted their previous statements to school authorities.
"Our contention has always been that there was a lot of peer pressure in this case, so maybe students were telling the truth initially, but after the case festered for a year their stories changed," the prosecutor said.
Grigsby was charged with "aiding and abetting" the male students in touching the girls and allowing the boys to appear in a state of partial nudity.
Defense attorney Jackie Patterson argued that the teacher stopped the routine when he saw what was taking place.
School administrators fired Grigsby last year, alleging that he had failed to properly supervise his students.
Jassundra Barnett and other parents, along with many students, stood behind Grigsby at his trial. Barnett said he shouldn't have lost his job, much less faced criminal charges.
"For us as parents, it's very disheartening. He was the ideal teacher, he helped children develop, and now that he's not there, it's a missing piece of the school community," she said. "They took him away from his passion and away from his kids, and we are losing out."
Barnett, herself an educator who has worked in Atlanta's public schools, described Grigsby as a nurturing role model that many students considered a father figure.
"They took off their pants and ended up in their gym shorts," Barnett said. "They did not do any lap dances or grope any girls. Of course, I would never condone that kind of dancing being done by any of my children, but these are kids acting silly."
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