Ex-Los Angeles County sheriff awaits verdict in 2nd trial

AP News
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Posted: Mar 14, 2017 2:23 AM
Ex-Los Angeles  County sheriff awaits verdict in 2nd trial

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is once again waiting on a jury to decide his fate on corruption charges.

After briefly deliberating Monday, jurors were set to resume Tuesday to determine whether Baca, now 74 and in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, helped obstruct a 2011 FBI investigation into guards who savagely beat inmates in his jails and lying about trying to obstruct the probe.

A jury in Baca's first trial could not reach verdicts and a mistrial was declared in December.

In closing arguments Monday at the second trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes said "when defendant Baca learned the FBI and a federal grand jury was investigating, he obstructed and when he learned the FBI has turned its focus on him, he lied."

Rhodes said the obstruction that led to convictions for many of Baca's underlings, including his top lieutenant, "started from the top and went all the way down."

Defense attorney Nathan Hochman told jurors they heard "no evidence Sheriff Baca gave orders to obstruct the FBI."

Jurors received instructions then deliberated for about an hour before leaving the courthouse.

As he left court, Baca would only say that he is feeling well and looking forward to the verdict.

If convicted, Baca could face up to 20 years in prison.

Baca was a major national law enforcement figure and a mostly popular sheriff in his 15 years at the head of the nation's largest sheriff's department.

He resigned in 2014 as the scandal plagued the jail system.

Prosecutors say the Sheriff's Department, which runs the county jail system, tried to derail the FBI probe after jail guards discovered an inmate with a contraband cellphone was acting as an FBI informant.

An undercover FBI agent had bribed a guard to give the phone to the inmate so he could stay in touch with the FBI and shoot photos and video of beatings.

Hochman said Baca thought the FBI committed a crime when agents had the cellphone smuggled to the inmate informant. He said Baca believed the inmate was being moved and having his name changed in the computer for safety reasons.

Hochman also said the former sheriff didn't willfully lie to federal authorities about the case in 2013, as prosecutors allege.