Johnny Gray Watson was a broken man.
A student at Kern High School District's Regional Occupation Center accused him last year of sending her inappropriate text messages. The 17-year-old alleged he asked her for sex, and an investigation by police said Watson engaged in a graphic "sexting" conversation with her.
Prosecutors filed a misdemeanor charge of annoying or molesting a minor and Watson, 51, was escorted out of the classroom where he taught video production. A videographer with decades of experiencing shooting sports and wedding videos, he suddenly found himself unemployable.
Everything Watson had worked for seemed to be disappearing. He faced lifetime registration as a sex offender if convicted.
"I cried in my son's arms. My wife's arms," Watson said through tears Monday as he discussed the allegations.
On Friday, for the first time in nearly a year and a half, he got some relief.
A Kern County jury acquitted Watson following a five-day trial in which his accuser admitted to plotting with another minor to obtain evidence to frame him, said Watson's attorney, Kyle J. Humphrey.
Kern High School District spokeswoman Erin Briscoe said Watson remains on unpaid leave while the district completes an administrative review of the case. Watson said he plans on trying to get his job back.
Johnny Watson, 50 at the time, was accused of making the remarks to the student between October and November of 2017, Bakersfield police said in a probable cause declaration. It was alleged he told the teen to keep quiet about the texts.
The teen came forward and presented police with photographs of messages she shared with Watson on Snapchat, court documents said.
She told investigators her relationship with Watson had been a normal student/teacher relationship until she texted him about a book he had mentioned in class. A texting conversation began about music and musical instruments, and Watson suggested they move their conversation to SnapChat, according to the documents.
Soon after they made contact on SnapChat, which self-deletes the message after the receiving party views the message, Watson began making inappropriate comments, according to the documents. The girl used her iPad to photograph the comments on her phone.
Watson told her to keep quiet about their relationship, according to the documents. He sent her messages saying his career would be over if his wife or others found out.
Among the messages he sent the teen, according to the documents, are the following:
• "Have you ever thought about having sex w me?"
• "Promise me that no matter what happens between us that we will always keep it on the DL."
• "We can't let that happen ever. We have to try harder then (sic) anything to keep it in the DL if someone were to find out we deny anything."
Watson said he tries not to be emotional, but found himself weeping as the verdict of not guilty was read.
His wife, Susan Watson, 52, described the relief she felt as a "physical earthquake."
"It really felt like we could breathe again," she said.
The past few days, the Watsons have been inundated with phone calls and texts from family and friends. Johnny Watson said he wants to thank everyone who supported him throughout the ordeal.
Humphrey said the surge of the #MeToo movement and groups that say the accuser should be believed regardless of the evidence are leading to an "upside down society" where people are guilty in the court of public opinion long before trial.
But Humphrey said cases like Watson's, where previously undisclosed information comes forward during testimony, show judgment should be withheld. While he didn't speak with jurors afterward, Humphrey said he believes the girl's admission to trying to frame Watson had a strong impact on their decision.
"This bloodthirsty, vampire attitude toward these case ends up damaging the accuser in the long run," he said.