Federal prosecutors urged a second jury in Downtown Los Angeles Monday to convict former Sheriff Lee Baca of three felonies, while Baca's defense said jurors would find nothing criminal.
"This case is all about seeing this case through the eyes of Sheriff Baca," defense lawyer Nathan Hochman repeated during a two-hour closing argument, during which he dismissed email and telephone records as circumstantial, attacked government witnesses for cutting deals with prosecutors, and again portrayed Baca as the unwitting overseer of the Sheriff's Department -- who didn't know his top deputy and others were breaking the law.
"The government doesn't get through the big, heavy doors of reasonable doubt," Hochman said, and later blamed former under sheriff Paul Tanaka for any illegal acts.
The jurors will consider whether Baca is guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, and making false statements, all stemming from a 2011 scheme to interfere with a federal grand jury investigation of alleged civil rights abuses of inmates by deputies.
The jury in Baca's first trial on the first two counts deadlocked in December and the judge declared a mistrial.
In this second trial federal prosecutors expanded the presentation of evidence to include the testimony of several former Sheriff's officials, who were themselves convicted and sentenced to prison for carrying out the obstruction scheme.
They either admitted to, or were found guilty of, trying to hide an inmate-turned-federal informant from the FBI, threatening the investigating FBI agent, and trying to dissuade potential witnesses from cooperating with the federal investigation.
"This case is not about a cellphone, and it's not about Anthony Brown," Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Rhodes said during her closing argument, referring to the discovery of a smuggled phone in Brown's cell at Men's Central Jail in August, 2011, and the Sheriff's Department's realization Brown, the informant, had been communicating with the FBI.
Rhodes outlined each of the criminal charges and the proof required for convictions, then linked those allegations to the testimony and evidence she said proves the government's case.
"Mr. Baca may have been a law enforcement officer at one time, but that experience is damning," when you think about these crimes, Rhodes said, suggesting Baca and his top aides all knew they were breaking the law.
-- Eric Leonard (@LeonardFiles) at Federal Court