Liberty University professor accused of groping student found not guilty

LYNCHBURG, Va. – The Liberty University professor accused of groping a student has been found not guilty.

William Atwell, who was arrested last November, was facing a sexual battery charge.

In court, the judge said his decision is based on the evidence presented and the law, which focuses on whether or not there was force, threat or intimidation.

The alleged victim claimed that in November 2021, while working as a student employee in Atwell’s department, Atwell requested she come into his office and give him a hug.

She says he inappropriately touched her during the embrace, then she pulled away from him and tried redirecting the conversation to the supplies she had just organized in a nearby closet.

The victim claimed she offered to show Atwell the organized supplies once they returned from Thanksgiving break; however, Atwell, who is deaf, signed that he insisted on seeing the closet at that moment.

She then said the two went into the supply closet, had a brief conversation, and then Atwell hugged her from behind. She claimed he pressed his pelvis against her backside and she signed “What are you doing?” several times, to which he signed back “What do you want?”

Atwell also testified and denied that the second hug ever happened. He said, “I do not hug people from behind” and that he “has high respect for his students.” He said the first hug did occur, but only to say goodbye.

The defense claims in the deaf community hugging is a major way to communicate and if any inappropriate touching did happen, it was by accident and there was no sexual motivation.

The protective order has been extended for 90 days, and Atwell has been ordered to not have any contact with the victim.

Atwell remains on leave from Liberty University.

About the Author:

Tim Harfmann joined the 10 News team in September 2020 and works at the station's Lynchburg bureau.