7:12 p.m. ET Aug. 4, 2004
ORLANDO, Fla. - A Walt Disney World worker who portrayed the character Tigger was acquitted Wednesday of charges he fondled a 13-year-old girl while posing for a photo with the teen and her mother.
Jurors found Michael Chartrand not guilty of misdemeanor battery and lewd and lascivious molestation, a felony, after deliberating for less than an hour. He had faced 15 years in prison if convicted.
Chartrand hugged his attorneys when he heard the verdict. Earlier this week, he rejected a plea offer that would have given him probation.
During closing arguments earlier Wednesday, a defense attorney donned a Tigger costume in the courtroom in an effort to show jurors how difficult it is to maneuver and see in the outfit.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Kaufman first strapped on Tigger's tail and then put on a neck cloth, the enormous orange-and-black striped head, and two large orange mitts to show jurors how the costume limits peripheral vision and arm movements.
On the stand, Chartrand answered "no" when asked if he had ever touched anyone inappropriately while working as a costumed Disney character. His testimony and acquittal came on the third day of his trial.
Chartrand, 36, said he wrote a letter of apology to the girl, but only at the urging of a detective investigating the case. The detective told him it would make the girl feel better, even though Chartrand said he did not remember the girl.
"I believe (the detective) was trying to get me to admit to something I would never do — fondling or groping a female," Chartrand testified.
Chartrand's defense attorney has contended that the girl's mother was merely after money and planned to sue Disney. The mother also claimed Tigger touched her breast during the visit to Disney World last February, although no criminal charges followed her allegation.
Under questioning from Kaufman, the mother conceded that she had met with a lawyer about the case. But asked if she thought she could make a lot of money from Disney, she told Kaufman, "No, I didn't."
© 2004 The Associated Press.