John Hutton walked out of a Winnipeg courtroom Friday a free man. The director of the John Howard Society was acquitted of sexual assault charges.

A loud sigh of relief could be heard as Judge John Combs read his decision. Hutton stood up, and embraced his wife and three kids as the family cried. 

In his decision, Combs said he found Hutton's testimony credible and that Hutton never wavered during cross-examination. 

The judge said the testimony of the girl, however, who is now 12 years old, was inconsistent. 

Hutton, the 55-year-old executive director of JHS, had been charged with sexual assault, sexual exploitation and sexual interference in connection with incidents that allegedly happened between December 2009 and January 2013 in the Rural Municipality of St. François Xavier.

The trial started Thursday with Hutton pleading not guilty to the charges while the girl took the stand —  shielded from the courtroom gallery to protect her identity — and described Hutton touching her inappropriately.

She came forward with the accusations in January 2013.

On Friday, Hutton's lawyer asked him directly if anything sexual had ever happened between him and the alleged victim.

"Never, at any time," Hutton said.

When asked if he'd ever kissed the girl, Hutton said yes, on the cheek and forehead, but he denied ever touching or kissing her inappropriately.

"The allegations are not true. I’ve never abused her in any way," he said.

Hutton's wife, who also took the stand late Friday morning, broke into tears, saying she doesn't believe her husband has done anything wrong.

Linda Lou Beaupre called the allegations "crazy" and "ridiculous." She said she never saw anything to indicate any improper behaviour between her husband and the victim, adding Hutton would never hurt anyone.

Hutton eager to return to John Howard Society

Hutton has been on a paid leave of absence since March from the JHS, an organization that offers programs and resources for male criminal offenders to help them reintegrate into society.

Hutton said he would like to return to his position and plans to talk to the JHS about when that might happen.

He may not have to wait long. Kate Kehler, who has been the society's acting executive director, released the following statement after the acquittal Friday afternoon:

"We are pleased with the decision from the courts. It has been a difficult time for all and while the staff have done a good job working under pressure, we're all looking forward to moving forward and continuing the work that we do. John Hutton will be returning to work as soon as possible."