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Former L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca Found Guilty On Corruption Charges In Retrial
A jury has found former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca guilty of obstruction of justice, as well as other charges of conspiracy and making false statements to federal investigators, reports the L.A. Times. Jurors took two full days of deliberation to arrive at their verdict.
The decision comes after a retrial, as the initial trial in December had resulted in a deadlocked jury (jurors were split 11-1 in favor of acquittal).
As noted by the L.A. Times, jurors in the first trial said that their indecision was, in part, caused by a perceived lack of hard evidence that tied Baca to the obstruction scheme. In the retrial, prosecutors took a different direction by calling up new witnesses that had worked with Baca, as well as playing recordings of Baca's interviews with federal authorities. In the recordings, Baca is heard telling authorities that he was not aware of the Sheriff's Department's attempts to block a FBI investigation. One of the key new witnesses—William “Tom” Carey, a former captain of the department—testified to say that Baca was "absolutely" aware of the obstruction efforts.
Baca was accused of trying to thwart a FBI investigation into the abuse that was allegedly taking place in the county's jails. In December, prosecutors had said that Baca "authorized and condoned" plans to obstruct the investigation, which took place in 2011. Among the claims was the accusation that Sheriff's officials hid Anthony Brown, an FBI informant within the jail system, after his cover was blown— they'd allegedly changed his name to throw off FBI agents. Baca is also accused of instructing Sheriff's deputies to confront one of the investigators at her own home, with intentions of intimidating her. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Baca had told his deputies to do "everything but put handcuffs" on the agent.
Baca's defense had argued (in both the December trial and the retrial) that it was former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka who had largely orchestrated the scheme. Tanaka was found guilty in April of 2016 for his involvement, and was later sentenced to five years in jail (in trial, Tanaka's lawyers said that their client was being used as a scapegoat by Baca).
While preparing for the retrial, Baca's defense had tried to introduce an argument involving the former Sheriff's Alzheimer's diagnosis. They said that, because of the disease, Baca's memory of the incidents may have been hampered, meaning that he could have been truthful when he claimed to have no recollection of certain events. U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, however, refused to allow the testimony of a psychiatrist who would have argued in favor of this theory.
Baca had originally agreed to a plea deal that would have saw him spend no more than six months in prison. The deal, however, was struck down by a judge who deemed it too lenient. Baca now faces up to 20 years in a federal prison after having been convicted on all three charges.
Nine other officers and officials have either been convicted or pleaded guilty for their involvement.