TAMPA — A jury this week found a former Benito Middle School teacher not guilty of sex crime charges — two years after he was arrested and fired after being accused of engaging in sexual activity with students.
Inconsistent statements from the two students who made the allegations and evidence that showed Alex Jeffrey Hull was not alone with one of them on key dates and times led to the acquittal, according to his defense team.
Defense attorneys Maria Pavlidis, Lily McCarty and Jason Mayberry said they discovered evidence that one student claimed in an online post that she made up the allegations against her former teacher. The state dropped the charges in that case.
The other student’s allegations went to trial this week. The defense said it presented alibi evidence for times when the prosecution claimed the sexual activity occurred.
On one date, the defense said, evidence showed Hull was on a Facetime call with his wife during the time in question. At other times, fellow teachers testified that Hull was with them in their classrooms — not with the student. On another key date, the defense said it showed the student was at a doctor’s appointment and not in school.
On the witness stand, the student said she could not remember the dates when the sexual activity allegations took place, the lawyers said. They also said there was no physical evidence to prove a crime occurred.
Upon hearing the jury’s verdict Wednesday, Hull and his attorneys wept.
“This was a case where we truly believe he was innocent,” Pavlidis said.
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office defended their case against the teacher.
“This was a tough case, but a good prosecutor has to be willing to try tough cases,” Warren’s office wrote in a statement. “We believe the victim, but knowing deep-down that a person committed a crime is different than being able to prove it in a court of law.”
Hull was an eighth-grade teacher when he was arrested in August 2018 after a parent reported the allegations to Tampa police. A 13-year-old student then told police that Hull showed her photographs of himself, according to an arrest affidavit, including ones showing him in boxers and in the nude.
The student said he later gave her a sex toy, the affidavit said. Near the end of the 2017-18 school year, the girl also said Hull twice had her perform sex acts on him while they were alone in a classroom, according to the affidavit.
But the defense said there was no evidence their client committed any crime.
The former student, the lawyers said, testified that she was “in love” with her teacher as an eight-grader.
The defense theorized that the pair were infatuated with the teacher and made up the allegations after seeing Hull and his wife’s private texts on his phone. The girl who testified admitted that she looked through the teacher’s phone, the lawyers said.
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“Everything they said was very similar to something we think they saw with him and his wife,” McCarty said.
The defense also noted there were no text messages exchanged between the students and the teacher. They said his internet search history was also devoid of sexual content.
Hull is no longer a teacher. Now 33, he was fired by the Hillsborough County School District after his arrest. He has a job now, but not even an acquittal can undo all that he has endured.
“His life is destroyed no matter what,” McCarty said. “No one can give these students back their amazing teacher. All someone has to do is say it happened and your life is destroyed.”