Jury Acquits Anti-Gay Protester

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - It took a jury just half an hour to acquit a Newark street preacher of assault and aggravated menacing charges stemming from a protest at the annual Gay Pride parade in June.

Charles Spingola, 45, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality, said afterward the gay community and the city had brought "bogus charges against me."

"They want to stop the mouths of the opposition," he said. Spingola was accused of splashing a flammable liquid on a female security guard for the parade.

The woman, Andrea Critchet, said Spingola was holding matches when he tossed the liquid on her, burning her eyes and skin. She said Spingola told her she would burn in hell.

But during the trial before Environmental Court Judge Richard Pfeiffer Jr., prosecutors produced no witnesses to the incident.

Spingola denied the charge. He and others protesting the march that day said he did not handle a gas can filled with lamp oil that was used to burn a Gay Pride flag on a downtown street corner.

Pfeiffer earlier dismissed charges that Spingola and another protester violated a fire code, ruling that flag-burning is protected under the First Amendment.

The city prosecutor's office is appealing that decision.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)