DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Just after 11:00 a.m. the federal court clerk sent a message that there was a verdict in the John Wiley Price corruption trial. The panel had returned to the Earle Cabell Federal Building in downtown Dallas for an eighth day of deliberations.
Before court officially convened CBS 11 News reporter Steve Pickett said a note from the jury foreperson had been sent to alert U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn that after deliberating the evidence the group was still at an impasse on four of the 11 counts.
Price was acquitted on seven counts and a mistrial was declared on the remaining counts. Specifically, Price was found not guilty on all bribery charges – which was the meat of the government’s case against him. The jurors, however, couldn’t reach a consensus on the four counts of tax fraud.
A lingering part of the litigation now involves whether to return the cash and property seized from Price by the FBI — including art, cars, jewelry and real estate.
Prosecutors had alleged Price took nearly $1 million in bribes, cash, land and cars in exchange for his vote on the commissioner’s court. Fain was accused of helping Price cover up the crimes.
Earlier this week after jurors sent notice that they were at am impasse Judge Lynn instructed them to keep working. Going into today jurors had already logged more than 40 hours of discussion behind closed doors.
Legal experts had said that the lengthy discussion boded well for Price, the longest-serving Dallas County commissioner who turned 67 years old while waiting for a decision earlier this week.
Thursday marked exactly two months since opening statements began in the trial. From nearly the beginning of the much-anticipated trial, prosecutors seemed to be on the defensive, repeatedly being scolded by Judge Lynn for serious mistakes, including not turning over required evidence so the Price team could build their defense.
Prosecutors cannot appeal on the charges that Price was acquitted.
While the Dallas County commissioner had been in the courtroom for the first few days of deliberations, he has spent the last two days waiting at his attorney’s office. He and Fain didn’t return to the court today until after getting notice that the jury had returned.
Last week, Price said that during the trial he continued to do work for Dallas County as a public official.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to respond so far on what the government has spent in the years-long Price corruption investigation.
Those taxpayer costs include the court-appointed lawyers for the county commissioner and his executive assistant, Dapheny Fain, a co-defendant who was found innocent of all charges.
While the government declined comment, Richard Roper, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, estimated the cost to taxpayers at “well over” $1 million.
The CBS11 I-Team learned late Friday, the government has paid, or approved to pay, more than $173,000 to the court-appointed defense lawyers for John Wiley Price and his co-defendants.
The government has so far shelled out $99,000 to the criminal defense team, and another $74,600 has been approved, with the final bill yet to come.
The amount is small compared to civil cases, such as tobacco litigation, that has put millions of dollars into lawyers’ coffers.
But an additional payback for Price’s team, in light of their victory, is the notoriety that such a high-profile case brings.
That was never more evident than when Knox left the courtroom with his father, also an attorney, following behind yelling, “That’s my boy!”
When the news broke on local radio station Heaven 97 in Price’s district, listeners called in to declare it a miracle.
One man felt the need to apologize publicly, because he had written the commissioner off.
“The overall reaction from our listeners, they were praising God,” said host Robert Ashley. “Because they felt that John would need a miracle in order to keep his freedom and to keep from being caught up in a system that some say selectively prosecutes people who stand up and challenge that system.”
At Friendship West Baptist Church, Pastor Frederick Haynes said he was as excited as the day Barack Obama was elected president.
“Whenever persons have suffered and overcome, they’ve emerged stronger,” Haynes said. “And so far as I’m concerned, he’s more empowered now to get good things done than ever before.”