It took a Pima County Superior Court jury 30 minutes Thursday to acquit a former Utterback Magnet Middle School teacher of engaging in sexual relations with a 15-year-old student in 2009.

The jury of five men and three women declined to comment after the verdict.

"It's surreal. It's a combination of being in hell and limbo at the same time and someone opening a door and there being a light and knowing I can walk through it," said Joseph Massey, the defendant.

Massey was charged with two counts of sexual conduct with a minor, a felony charge that carries a mandatory prison sentence.

The trial began with testimony by the girl's aunt, who said she had looked at her niece's Internet Facebook page after the girl seemed upset when she was on the computer sending a message.

She said she found several messages between her and someone called "IDrSeuss" that revealed the two of them had engaged in oral sex recently.

After the girl told her that IDrSeuss was an assistant boys track coach at Utterback, the police were called. The girl was on the girls track team.

The girl testified that she and Massey had progressed over time from being friends to hugging and kissing. She testified that on May 12, 2009, a few days after her 15th birthday, Massey performed oral sex on her during his planning period, when she had been given permission to leave her science class.

Defense attorney Dan Cooper focused on inconsistencies in the girl's story and problems with the police investigation, including that she gave different versions of where and when the event took place.

During opening statements, Cooper told the jurors that no computer evidence existed. Yahoo failed to preserve the Internet protocol (IP) address for IDrSeuss, so police had no evidence that Massey was IDrSeuss, and police failed to seize or inspect Massey's computer at work or at home. The police also never interviewed the girl's science teacher, obtained attendance records for the day of the alleged incident, or examined the girl's clothing for DNA, Cooper said.

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If police had gone to Massey's classroom, they would have seen a window in his door and blinds on the windows that anyone could have looked through at any time, Cooper said.

At the time of Massey's arrest, he had a temporary contract with the school district to teach social studies. He said he wasn't sure what the future holds for him.

His father died a few months ago, and he hopes to take the time to mourn him now, he said.

"I'm going to take everything a day at a time and rebuild my life," said Massey, 37. He said he was grateful that he had an attorney who believed in him, and as well as loyal friends and family members.

"I've been fortunate to have a family and core friends who knew from the get-go it was false," Massey said.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com