WALLA WALLA -- A man accused of telling a 15-year-old girl he doesn't know to get into his pickup in Eastgate last fall has been acquitted of a luring charge in Walla Walla County Superior Court.
A seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated about an hour before reaching its unanimous not-guilty verdict Tuesday afternoon following testimony and closing arguments in a trial that began Monday.
Fortino Venegas Garcia, 44, of 2300 Mill Creek Road, was arrested the afternoon of Oct. 15 at the Chevron gas station, 1916 Isaacs Ave., after encountering the girl in the alley behind the building.
The girl testified that she was walking east when Garcia -- who was driving west -- passed her and said, "Hi, how are you."
She said he then stopped the truck, stepped out, stood with the door open and asked if she wanted to get in. He then told her to get in, she said.
The girl refused and testified she "was in tears and kind of freaking out" when she used a cellphone to call her father, who works nearby. Garcia, meanwhile, pulled up next to a gas pump at the station where he was located and taken into custody.
Garcia reportedly told the jury he did offer the girl a ride, but he didn't intend any harm. And his attorney, Richard Wernette, pointed out that Garcia didn't walk toward her, try to grab her, yell at or threaten her or make any type of sexual comment.
If Garcia had been convicted, he could have been ordered to serve up to a year in the County Jail. He served two months before being released Dec. 15 and placed on a curfew pending the outcome of his case.
Terry McConn can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8319.