HOUSTON – Tom DeLay, who was forced out as Republican House majority leader in 2005 because of felony money-laundering charges and later convicted, was exonerated Thursday by a Texas appeals court.
The 3rd Court of Appeals said the evidence in the case was “legally insufficient,” and in a 2-1 vote, it cleared DeLay. The conservative Delay had represented a Houston district and as House leader earned the nickname “the Hammer” for his iron-fisted control of his colleagues.
In 2011, a jury convicted DeLay, now 66, of helping to funnel corporate money to Texas candidates. He was accused of conspiring with two associates to use his Texas-based political action committee to send a check for $190,000, raised from corporate donors, to the Republican National Committee. The RNC then sent $190,000 to seven candidates for the Texas House of Representatives.
Prosecutors had argued that the money helped the GOP take control of the Texas House, which redrew congressional districts so that more Republicans were sent to Congress in 2004, strengthening DeLay’s power.
DeLay, who was sentenced to three years in prison, was free on bail while appealing his conviction.
“This is an outrageous criminalization of politics, and I’m so glad they wrote the ruling” the way they did, DeLay said Thursday in the Capitol in Washington. He was meeting with religious conservatives 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,’ ” he said. “It’s a really happy day for me, and I just thank the Lord for carrying me through all of this.”
Prosecutors said they would appeal the ruling to Texas’ highest criminal court.
“We strongly disagree with the opinion” of the judges who overturned the conviction, District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said. “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.”
DeLay has been consulting and lecturing on college campuses, his attorney Brian Wice said. DeLay also had a short, but memorable, stint on the television show “Dancing With the Stars.” His attorney said he did not know whether DeLay would seek political office again.