ORLANDO, Fla. – A Walt Disney World (search) 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.
The acquittal came less than an hour following a three-day trial during which the defense attorney for Michael Chartrand (search) donned a Tigger costume in an effort to show jurors how difficult it is to maneuver and see in the outfit.
Outside court, Chartrand, a native of England who lost his fiancee and had been suspended without pay after his arrest in the case, said he'd like his job back, but that the experience "has ruined my dream to be a character."
Disney spokesman Bill Warren said, "We can have a conversation with him, but at this point we really don't have a comment."
Jurors found Michael Chartrand not guilty of lewd and lascivious molestation, a felony; he had faced up to 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.
Prosecutor Will Jay and members of the girl's family left court without commenting.
During closing arguments earlier Wednesday, defense attorney Jeffrey Kaufman — who also moonlights as Tigger (search) and Goofy at Walt Disney World — 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.
Jurors said the tactic had no effect on their decision. "There was no evidence to convict," juror Zach Kauffman said. "They couldn't even prove who was behind the Tigger mask."
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."