DeLay jurors weigh mostly circumstantial evidence

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by JUAN A. LOZANO/Associated Press

khou.com

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 12:51 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- Prosecutors in ex-U.S. House majority
leader Tom DeLay's money laundering trial made a final pitch to
jurors Monday to connect the dots among the mounds of
circumstantial evidence and find him guilty.
  
DeLay's attorneys said prosecutors needed jurors to infer
DeLay's guilt because they'd presented no proof the ex-lawmaker
committed a crime.
  
Jurors began deliberating DeLay's fate after more than three
hours of closing arguments.
  
Prosecutors had focused on summarizing the volumes of e-mails
and other documents they presented during DeLay's three-week trial
in an effort to prove DeLay used his political action committee to
illegally channel $190,000 in corporate money into 2002 Texas
legislative races through a money swap.
  
DeLay, a once powerful but polarizing Houston-area congressman,
has denied wrongdoing. The Republican is charged with money
laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up
to life in prison if convicted.
  
Prosecutors Gary Cobb and Beverly Mathews said the
circumstantial evidence in the case, when put together, showed
DeLay took part in a scheme with two associates, John Colyandro and
Jim Ellis, to get corporate money to seven Texas House candidates.
Under Texas law, corporate donations can't go directly to political
campaigns.
  
"What was Tom DeLay's motive to do this? His motive was
redistricting, pure and simple," Mathews said.
  
Prosecutors claim the corporate money helped Republicans elect
candidates and take control of the Texas House. That enabled the
GOP majority to push through a Delay-engineered congressional
redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in
2004 -- and strengthened DeLay's political power.
  
Prosecutors say the corporate money was laundered through an arm
of the Washington-based Republican National Committee, or RNC. The
money was exchanged for the same amount in individual donations,
which can be used in Texas campaigns.
  
"You can logically infer anything from the evidence. That is
what circumstantial evidence is. You don't have to have an
eyewitness to figure out what went on here," Mathews said.
  
But Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lead attorney, restated what he had
often said throughout the trial: that prosecutors had failed to
prove the ex-lawmaker committed a crime and the money swap was
legal.
  
Throughout his closing arguments, DeGuerin repeated one phrase
in particular: no corporate money went to candidates in Texas. He
even included the sentence -- in bold, black letters -- in a slide
show he presented to jurors.
  
DeGuerin argued DeLay was being punished for his political views
and that prosecutors tried to "make politics dirty." Trial
testimony from prosecution witnesses often focused on how money is
raised in political campaigns, particularly from corporations.
  
"I don't agree with tearing down someone because of what their
beliefs are," DeGuerin said.
  
The case had been originally brought by a Democratic district
attorney who is now retired.
  
The strongest evidence prosecutors presented was an audio
interview in which DeLay said he knew beforehand about the money
swap. DeLay says he misspoke in the interview with prosecutors in
2005, just before his indictment.
  
DeLay has said Ellis told him about the money swap on Oct. 2,
2002, after it had been approved. At trial, prosecutors focused on
a Sept. 11, 2002, meeting Ellis had at DeLay's Washington office.
Prosecutors told jurors that an hour before Ellis was in DeLay's
office that day, he received a blank check from the PAC's
accountant in Austin. That check was later sent to the RNC and
filled out for $190,000. Two former DeLay staff members testified
DeLay would have been too busy to be at the Sept. 11 meeting.
  
During closing arguments, both prosecutors and defense attorneys
played excerpts from the audio interview. Prosecutors said it
proved in DeLay's own words that he knew about the money swap
before it happened. DeGuerin argued it proved DeLay didn't propose
the transaction and had little if any involvement in how the PAC
was run.
  
Prosecutors presented more than 30 witnesses during the trial
that started Nov. 1. In contrast, only five witnesses took the
stand in DeLay's defense.
  
At trial, prosecutors also presented records showing the seven
Texas candidates got more donations from the RNC than all other
state legislative candidates around the U.S.
  
The criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal
investigation of DeLay's ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack
Abramoff, ended his 22-year political career representing suburban
Houston. The Justice Department probe into DeLay's ties to Abramoff
ended without any charges filed against DeLay.
  
Ellis and Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried
later.
  
DeLay, whose nickname was "the Hammer" for his heavy-handed
style, runs a consulting firm based in the Houston suburb of Sugar
Land. In 2009, he appeared on ABC's hit television show "Dancing
With the Stars."

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