NORMAN — Moments after he was found not guilty of multiple sex crimes against children, former University of Oklahoma professor Dwain Pellebon broke into prayer as he was group-hugged Friday night by supporters and family members inside a fourth-floor courtroom in Cleveland County.
“The Lord is good,” Pellebon said as women cried loudly in the courtroom. “We knew. We knew from the very beginning.”
The dramatic events unfolded at roughly 8:15 p.m., nearly two weeks after jurors began hearing Pellebon's case. The jury of eight men and four women acquitted the former social work professor of three counts of child sex abuse and six counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child.
‘I'm feeling vindicated'
Following his dramatic acquittal, Pellebon spoke to reporters outside of the courtroom, revealing that he has been living with friends for the past two years.
“I'm feeling vindicated,” he said. “From the very beginning, I stated to university administrators that there's a second side to this story and this story was going to be told.”
Pellebon said he was praying while Judge Tracy Schumacher read the verdict and that he “didn't think at all” during those fleeting moments. When Schumacher was finished, he embraced both of his attorneys as his supporters wailed in the background.
“I was thinking about my wife ... I was thinking about my children,” he said. “I didn't think about going to jail.”
Prosecutors alleged from the beginning that Pellebon was a sophisticated child predator who would spend years grooming his victims, often taking young girls to the movies or paying them to do chores around his Norman home.
Yet many of the state's witnesses appeared to have a hard time remembering testimony that cast a negative light on Pellebon. Some of the prosecutors own witnesses, including two of the alleged victims' mothers, were openly hostile to Lori Puckett, an assistant district attorney for Cleveland County.
During Friday's closing arguments — in a rather strange scene for a criminal trial — one of Pellebon's alleged victims left the courtroom in tears. Before that, she had been sitting among the defendant's supporters.
Several charges filed
Defense attorneys painted Pellebon as a man who loved children and took the time to spend time with them when other adults would not.
Attorney David Smith, who has represented Pellebon for nearly two years, criticized Cleveland County prosecutors for using a “shotgun” approach as they sought to convict his client of sex crimes against six different girls.
Smith said prosecutors filed numerous charges against Pellebon to give the impression of “where there's smoke, there's fire.”
“There's gotta be a case in here somewhere,” Smith told jurors during his closing remarks. “Never mind that each one of them is weak and cannot stand on their own. There's just not been a lick of proof.”
Pellebon was arrested in December 2011 and charged with a list of sex crimes against children, one of them the mentally disabled girl, who is now 17.
The former professor, who at one time helped to train state Department of Human Services workers resigned his position at OU on Dec. 20, 2011, shortly after his arrest.
“I don't want to comment beyond saying that my life has changed forever as a result of what I've been put through ... what my family's been put through,” he said. “But the jury did their duty.”
Living with friends
Since his arrest, Pellebon has been living outside of his Norman home.
“I've had three different people put me up otherwise I would've been homeless,” he said. “But my wife and my children needed the home and by no means was I going to ask them to leave.”
Pellebon said he will still have to live outside of the home because of a court order but that he is looking forward to healing his family and reuniting with them.
“That's going to be absolutely respected,” he said of the court order.