HASTINGS, Mich. – A Barry County jury cleared a Hastings elementary teacher of his indecent exposure charge, after a neighbor alleged he exposed himself to her while urinating in his backyard. Although a misdemeanor charge, it’s something that could have cost 55-year-old Stephen Merring his teaching license.
Merring has taught physical education at Southeastern Elementary School for nearly 20 years. Attorney Fil Iorio said Merring was confident that once the jury heard his client’s side of the story they would use common sense and acquit him.
“I think we were disappointed it had to go this far, but it did,” said Iorio. “I think that speaks to our criminal justice system, that if it does go to a jury there’s a lot of confidence that if you have a jury of your peers they’re going to make the right call; in this call they did.”
Merring has been on paid leave since he was arrested late April. Ioria said Merring was working in his basement, that has a laundry room and no bathroom, when Merring went out to his backyard and urinated.
Iorio described Merring’s home to be in a neighborhood, but said the backyard backs into the Thornapple River, with multiple trees and shrubs. Merring said he never exposed himself and did not think anyone could see him.
“(Merring has) been at the school for almost 20 years, he’s a hard worker, he gets along well with his colleagues, he enjoys teaching there,” said Iorio. “He’s really looking forward to putting this chapter behind him, and moving on with his life.”
Now Merring told Iorio that he just wants to get back to work; but it remains unclear when officials with Hastings Area School System will allow Merring to begin teaching again.