AUGUSTA — A jury cleared a director of a youth ministry program of unlawful sexual contact in 2014 with a 10-year-old girl.

Lucas Savage, 28, of Clinton, denied that allegation when he testified Wednesday morning on the second day of his trial at the Capital Judicial Center.

In response to questions from his attorney, Pamela Ames, Savage repeatedly denied touching the girl inappropriately.

The jury returned a verdict after about four hours. They returned to the courtroom about three hours after beginning deliberations after they sent a note saying they were having trouble reaching a verdict.

Justice William Stokes told them they should return to the jury room and continue working.

He also asked if they wanted to break for the night and return Thursday morning, and they opted to remain at the courthouse Wednesday evening.

After the verdict Savage hugged his attorney, his father and two other men who had sat on a bench behind him during the trial.

Outside the courthouse, Ames spoke on Savage’s behalf.

“We’re very elated that the jury found that this was a false allegation,” she said. “It’s too bad it’s taken a year in order to clear his name.”

Ames said Savage was supported by friends, family and a pastor from a new church in Wilton that Savage has been attending.

“His faith in God is very strong and clear,” Ames said.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said afterward via email, “I appreciate the jury’s time and commitment to this case. I believe the victim told the truth, and I appreciate her strength in coming forward. I hope this verdict does not discourage other victims from coming forward.”

About 20 people watched Savage testify about his involvement with Youth Haven Ministries, where he was co-director in 2014, and about his relationship with the girl and her family.

Savage described the group as a nonprofit “parachurch” ministry sponsored by a whole group of churches, which focused on children and families and was aimed at least partially at trying “to provide a good, moral sense of direction.”

He said the girl and her siblings attended the youth group as well as Canaan Calvary Church which his family and his wife’s family attended for years.

On Tuesday, the victim named in the indictment, now 12 years old, took the stand to describe an incident that occurred in Savage’s bed in the fall of 2014, saying he carried her from the couch into his bedroom, put her in his bed and put his hand between her legs all night.

Savage’s wife, Kellie, was in the bed at the time, the girl said.

The newspaper’s policy is not to publish the names of those who are identified as victims of sex crimes.

Savage said he never carried the girl to his bedroom, where the TV was located, but carried her from the bedroom to the couch when she fell asleep watching a movie.

On Wednesday he said he moved into his parents’ home in Wilton in March 2016 shortly after he was arrested on the charge and after the Department of Health and Human Services was called in and became involved with the family.

He responded with an enthusiastic “Sure” when Ames asked him to describe things at his home, in his woodworking shop and at the youth group.

Testimony Tuesday indicated the girl ended up in Savage’s bed three times — twice in Clinton and once when the Savage family brought her on a trip to Boston with them, although she denied the latter.

Savage said the girl was brought to his home by her mother.

Savage identified a series of color photos taken in January, February and March 2015 that depicted Savage and the girl and sometimes one or more of her siblings at his home, at her home and — smiling broadly — in his woodshop.

Savage testified that other children, boys as well as girls, stayed overnight at his home as well.

“We got to know a lot of families with Youth Haven,” he said.

The prosecutor objected when Savage answered questions by saying “we,” referring to himself and his wife, Kellie. Savage said it was hard for him to avoid it because he and his wife discussed a lot of things together.

Savage said they made an effort to pay attention to the girl because she had a lot of siblings and seemed to lack attention and frequently fought with her next younger sibling. He said the girl came over to his house when the Savages offered to help the girl with math after she was taken out of school so her mother could home-school her.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh, cross-examined Savage briefly, asking whether he could have manipulated the dates indicated on the photographs introduced by Ames. Savage denied doing it.

Cavanaugh also questioned Savage about who slept where in the bed when the girl was with Savage and his wife.

Savage said he was always in the middle position.

Kellie Savage then returned to the stand to say that she was in the middle both in Boston and once at her Clinton home and that Lucas Savage was between her and the girl one time when Kellie Savage woke up and was surprised to find the girl was there.

Savage said the girl — who had gone to bed on the couch — was standing at the foot of his bed saying she was cold and he told her to hop in.

He said his wife approached him the next day to say, “I want you to go and talk with her to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” Savage said he did so.

In his closing argument, Cavanaugh told jurors the case came down to “a very stark choice” between believing the girl or Savage. “She says, yes; he says absolutely not.”

Ames told jurors, “The only element that is contested is whether my client subjected (the girl) to a sexual contact.”

She said the girl showed no behavior change after the dates the girl said the sexual contact occurred and that on the witness stand, the girl got upset only when talking about problems in school.

Prior to Lucas Savage testifying, his father, Kyle, took the stand and described the girl and a younger sister coming to his Wilton home in December 2014 with Lucas Savage’s family for four-wheeler rides and a meal.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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Twitter: @betadams