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HOUSTON Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says he thanks God for his acquittal on money laundering charges, calling the prosecution, an outrageous criminalization of politics.

Lunching in the Capitol with other Texas Republicans Thursday, DeLay said he was on his knees praying with prominent religious conservatives on Capitol Hill when his lawyer called with the news that a Texas appeals court had overturned his conviction. DeLay told reporters that he never felt burdened by the case, even though he says it cost him millions of dollars.

DeLay, 66, was found guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for helping to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but his sentence was on hold during the appeal.

In documents released early Thursday, an appeals court said the evidence in the case was legally insufficient to sustain DeLay s convictions.

I m very happy about it, DeLay said. I m so glad they wrote the ruling about it because the ruling says I never should have been charged, much less indicted.

The court said all judgments against DeLay were reversed, and the former congressman was formally acquitted.

For both DeLay and his critics, the process was frustratingly slow, due in part to some of the appeals court justices in Austin recusing themselves as well as DeLay s successful effort to have a judge on the panel removed because of anti-Republican comments she made.

As he walked through the halls of the building where he once strode as a fearsome legislative leader, Republican lawmakers including Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood hugged him, slapped his back and congratulated him on his court victory.

Great day! said Weber as he hugged DeLay. Great day!

But the decision doesn t mean DeLay has emerged from his legal troubles.  Prosecutors in Austin quickly announced plans to appeal.

We strongly agree that Tom DeLay is guilty, said Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County District Attorney. There was a lot of work done by jurors. They sat in the box for three weeks and heard the evidence. This is far from over. We re going to petition the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review this opinion.

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