On its fifth day of deliberation, a federal court jury in Little Rock acquitted former Republican senator and state party chair Gilbert Baker of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery but said it was hung on 8 other charges of conspiracy and wire fraud.
The judge declared a mistrial on the 8 remaining charges.
He was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery of a judge (this is the count on which he was acquitted, Debra Hale-Shelton reports); bribery concerning programs using federal funds (referring to federal support for a state court), and seven counts of wire fraud, all related to Morton checks delivered to the PACs Baker created.
My original post misstated the number of charges and the number of days of deliberation. The jury deliberated briefly Friday afternoon, then devoted full days Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before delivering its verdict this afternoon.
No word yet on how the jury might have been divided and whether the prosecution will retry the case though it said that is its intention.
Baker’s charges all arise from his efforts to raise money for judicial campaigns in 2014, with some of the money he raised from nursing home owner Michael Morton going into PACs he created primarily to send money to then-Circuit Judge Mike Maggio. Maggio has pleaded guilty to taking the campaign contributions and, in return, lowering by $4.1 million a verdict against a Morton-owned nursing home in Greenbrier, found negligent in the death of an elderly patient.
Baker was charged with bribing Maggio. He insisted he merely raised legal campaign contributions. Morton, who was not charged, said he merely supported good judicial candidates, including Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, for whom Baker also raised money. She, Baker and Maggio exchanged numerous texts during the period in question, but Wood’s and Baker’s texts were erased and she said she couldn’t remember what they said. Baker didn’t testify.
Money from Morton was received by Baker on July 9, 2013. The next day, Maggio reduced the verdict.
The trial’s highlights included testimony admitting campaign contributions were made through straw donors to Maggio and, in the case of money Morton sent to Wood, before judicial campaigns could legally raise money. But these were not elements of the federal charges. The judge said they could only be included in the larger context of the allegations.
U.S. Attorney Julie Peters said, “We appreciate the jury’s service on such a lengthy and complex case. While we are reviewing our options we intend to retry the defendant on the remaining counts.”
The government has already asked for permission to question the jury about their deliberations.
More to come later from Debra Shelton, who’s been covering the trial for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.