By Dan Morse October 27, 2015
A 56-year-old Maryland man was found not guilty on all charges Tuesday after being accused of fondling a 5-year-old girl at a home day-care center owned by the man’s daughter and wife.
“I am very satisfied,” Manuel Aguilar-Morales said after the verdict. “The jury accepted the truth that I am innocent.”During the six-day trial, Aguilar-Morales’s attorney called as character witnesses eight parents whose children went to the day care. One of them, Steve Hadeed, said in an interview that he never doubted Aguilar-Morales’s innocence. “There are no other people in the world I would trust more to care for my children than the Aguilar-Morales family, and that includes Manuel,” Hadeed said.Andrew Jezic, an attorney for Aguilar-Morales, said his client had several roles at Ariana’s Learning and Play Family Child Care in Silver Spring. He cooked meals for his daughter, his wife and the children. He cleaned rooms and performed maintenance. After returning from his own job — landscaping and construction work — he would help watch the children when they played in the back yard. According to the allegations, at some point, he went into the children’s nap room and fondled a 5-year-old girl. The girl testified during the trial, Jezic said.Aguilar-Morales was acquitted on five counts: child sex abuse, two counts of second-degree sex offense, and two counts of third-degree sex offense, Jezic said.
Cindy Aguilar, Aguilar-Morales’s daughter, said it has been “a little bit hard” getting new parents to enroll their children while the case was pending. But she said many parents who had kids at the day care before the arrest returned their kids to the center after it was shut down briefly. Their support, she said, “will be something my family will never forget.”
Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.