Jury quickly declares Eric Grant not guilty

LACONIA — After about 30 minutes of deliberation, a Belknap County Superior Court jury has found country band leader Eric Grant innocent of sexually assaulting his former niece when she was 10.

Grant, the lead singer and namesake of the Eric Grant Band, hugged his attorney Emily McLaughlin as they both fought back tears when the foreman read the verdict.

About 14 of his family and friends, who had been fixtures during the five days of testimony, stifled their jubilation while in the courtroom, many weeping and hugging each other as the verdict was read.

The trial, which began at 10 a.m. on September 12, lasted five days. Closing arguments were yesterday morning and the jury began its deliberations at 11:40 a.m. At noon, they broke for lunch, and they announced they had reached a verdict by 1:05.

After meeting in a private room with his supporters and family, Grant and McLaughlin sat down and spoke with reporters.

He said that since the first day he heard he had been accused and indicted he has always believed in telling the truth. "My mindset was that the truth will set me free," Grant said.

Grant had been accused of digitally raping his former niece when she was 10 and was with her family at a New Year's Eve party in 2006 at Grant's house. Grant's ex-wife is the girl's mother's sister. The girl made her allegations in April of 2012 during a period of her life when she was seeing a therapist.

The girl, now 17, testified that Grant put his hand in her pajamas and violated her with a finger for "a couple of minutes" while the two sat in a room crowded with relatives. The prosecution produced no witness who took note of the alleged attack although one testified he saw Grant appear to give the girl a "wedgie" at one point during the party.

There was testimony that the girl's attitude toward Grant, her "favorite uncle", and her general behavior began to change after the date of the party.

When asked after the verdict where he goes from here, Grant said he would "get back to basics. . . focus on the things most important to me, the people I love."

He said he has many exciting things in his future, his music, and plans with many of his family and friends that can now become a reality.

"It was an awful feeling for me every day and, (especially) the past couple of weeks to think this could be the end," he said.

"Every time I put my kids on the bus I had to think I may not see them until high school," Grant said, his eyes welling again with tears.

Before Grant spoke, McLaughlin said that since the case first became public, he had endured a lot of media scrutiny. She said he was a talented, well-known musician who fought long and hard with the decision he made not to speak publicly or to the media until his case was resolved.

"He decided not to enter the discourse" McLaughlin said. "He said he wanted a jury trial."

Since the indictment in December of 2012, Grant made one statement — through McLaughlin within days of the indictment — asserting his innocence and saying he would fight the charge.

"Since that day," said McLaughlin yesterday, "We actively, straight-forwardly prepared for trial."

"It's very clear that Judge (James) O'Neill gave us a fair trial and that's all that we asked for," she said. "All he (Grant) kept saying is 'all I want is a fair trial.'"

Grant expressed his gratitude to O'Neill and the jury for taking the time and having the patience to listen to the testimony and to allow him to tell his story. He testified on his own behalf Tuesday afternoon and was the defense's only witness.

When asked about his feelings toward the people, including the girl, who made the allegations, Grant said he's "a guy with a big heart" and while he's still upset that he was put through the time he's described in court as the "darkest year of my life," he said he bears no ill will.