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Appeals panel tosses DeLay conviction

| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 7:45 p.m.

AUSTIN — A Texas appeals court dismissed the criminal conviction of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Thursday, saying there was insufficient evidence for a jury in 2010 to have found him guilty of illegally funneling money to Republican candidates.

The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals said prosecutors failed to prove that the money being laundered was illegally obtained, which the court said was required for a money laundering conviction. Prosecutors alleged that DeLay illegally channeled $190,000 in corporate donations though his political action committee and into Texas legislative races, where corporate money is barred.

“The fundamental problem with the State's case was its failure to prove proceeds of criminal activity,” the court wrote in a 2-1 decision.

Justices on the appeals court suggested that even jurors appeared confused during deliberations, based on questions they asked about whether the charge required that the money be illegally obtained in the first place.

DeLay was meeting with religious conservatives in Washington when he learned of the court's ruling.

“We were all basically on our knees praying, and my lawyer calls and says, ‘You're a free man,'” the former Texas congressman said. “It's a really happy day for me, and I just thank the Lord for carrying me through all of this.”

State prosecutors said they would appeal to Texas' highest criminal court.

“We are concerned and disappointed that two judges substituted their assessment of the facts for that of 12 jurors who personally heard the testimony of over 40 witnesses over the course of several weeks and found that the evidence was sufficient and proved DeLay's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the Travis County district attorney's office said in a statement.

DeLay was found guilty by a jury in Austin of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Prosecutors said the money he funneled to local candidates helped Republicans take control of the Texas House, enabling them to push through a DeLay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Republicans to Congress in 2004, strengthening his political power.

DeLay, whose heavy-handed but successful style while holding the No. 2 job in the House earned him the nickname “the Hammer,” was sentenced to three years in prison. His sentence had been on hold during the appeals process.

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