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Texas judge says DeLay jury veering off track

Texas judge says DeLay jury veering off track

November 24th, 2010 by JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press in News

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Jurors in former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's money laundering trial ended their first full day of deliberations without a verdict Tuesday, seeming to struggle as they asked questions that had the judge in the case shaking his head and saying they weren't on the right track.

But just before the panel went home for the day, it sent Senior Judge Pat Priest a note that said, "We're making some progress but we'd like to go home and come back in the morning."

DeLay is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Prosecutors say he used his political action committee to illegally funnel $190,000 in corporate donations into Texas legislative races in 2002 through a money swap.

DeLay has denied wrongdoing. While he remained upbeat Tuesday, he said waiting for the verdict has been tiring.

Jurors have deliberated about 11 hours since Monday.

On Tuesday, they sent four questions to Priest, including one that asked for a legal definition of money fraud and another that focused on when corporate donations to PACs could become illegal.

Priest shook his head after reading the money fraud question, as that's not a charge DeLay is facing. After reading the question on corporate donations, Priest told attorneys in the case, "they are clearly off on a track that has nothing to do with our" trial.

Priest asked the jurors to refer to the court's charge, a 13-page document that outlines the law they should follow in their deliberations.

"I'm afraid you may be getting away from the decisions you must make," Priest told the jurors.

On Monday, the jury sent Priest a question asking for a clarification on elements of money laundering. Priest also referred them to the court's charge.

Both prosecutors and DeLay's attorneys said they were encouraged by jurors' questions - although for different reasons.

"They are zeroing in right on the weaknesses of the state's case," said Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lead attorney.

Lead prosecutor Gary Cobb said, "We are heartened by the fact that they say they are making progress."

DeLay and two associates - John Colyandro and Jim Ellis - are accused of illegally channeling corporate donations collected by DeLay's political action committee in Texas through an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee. The money went to seven Texas House candidates in 2002.

Prosecutors claim the money helped Republicans 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.

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.

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."