California Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula was found not guilty Thursday of misdemeanor child cruelty, ending a trial that included testimony from most of his family, including the 7-year-old daughter he was accused of striking.
The verdict came after prosecutors alleged that Arambula had squeezed and struck the girl on the face while disciplining her in December and left a bruise on her temple from his wedding ring.
Arambula has said he spanked the girl but did not hit her face or know how she got the bruise.
A former emergency room doctor who represents Fresno, Arambula has been on leave from the Assembly during the case. Arambula spokeswoman Felicia Cousart Matlosz said he would return to work at the state Legislature on Monday.
"To my wife and my daughters, you know how much I love you. I want to say it publicly so that everyone can hear it," Arambula told reporters, according to a video from KMPH-TV in Fresno.
Arambula, his wife, mother and two of his three daughters testified during the case. His attorneys painted the oldest daughter as an unreliable witness who wanted attention. They argued there were several ways the girl could have been bruised, including fighting with her sister or jumping on beds before Arambula grabbed and spanked her.
"There is no evidence to suggest that Dr. Arambula intentionally struck his child in the head," attorney Michael Aed told jurors.
Prosecutor Steve Wright likened Arambula to "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," saying his public persona did not match his actions at home, where he could become angry and violent toward his three daughters.
Wright criticized the strategy of painting the girl as unreliable.
"I can't understand throwing your daughter under the bus in order to protect your own reputation," Wright said in his closing remarks.
After the verdict, Arambula asked reporters to respect his family's privacy, asking to "let today's verdict be the end of this chapter."
"It is time for me to do what I do best as a father: To sit and to play with my girls on the ground, to tuck them into bed at night, to read them a story and to let them know that their family loves them and will always love them," he said.