Prosecutors Balk; Sen. Hutchison Cleared of Charges
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was cleared today of felony ethics charges after prosecutors lost a key ruling and refused to go ahead with her trial.
In a stunning turn of events, prosecutors said they wouldn’t proceed because the judge refused to rule before the trial on whether evidence seized in a June raid of the state treasury could be used.
They asked Judge John Onion Jr. to drop the charges before a jury was seated. But Hutchinson’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, wanted a jury seated first so that Hutchison could not be indicted again if the charges were dismissed.
After the judge seated a jury, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle refused to open his case. The jurors were instructed to find Hutchison innocent and the panel acquitted her less than an hour after they were sworn in.
″A verdict in this case would have set a standard for what public employees can and cannot do. That is too big a question to ask a jury to answer in a vacuum,″ Earle said later.
Mrs. Hutchison wouldn’t comment on the verdict. Her attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said, ″The plain fact is that there was no evidence of any nature that Kay did anything wrong.″
Mrs. Hutchison, R-Tex., was charged with using her previous office as state treasurer for personal and political purposes.
Mrs. Hutchison’s attorneys had sought to suppress evidence from the raid, saying it was illegal because authorities did not use search warrants.
Prosecutors said search warrants weren’t needed because they were simply serving subpoenas issued by a grand jury.
They wanted the judge to rule on the evidence before the trial because they could not appeal if the ruling came after the trial started.
″If this evidence is suppressed, the state will not be able to go forward with this prosecution,″ Travis County First Assistant District Attorney Steve McCleery said Thursday
But Onion said it was impossible before the trial to determine if any or all of the boxes of evidence should be admitted.
Mrs. Hutchison was charged with using state funds, employees and computers for personal and campaign purposes when she was state treasurer, a position she held from January 1991 to June 1993.
She was also been charged with tampering with state computer records to cover up her activities. She pleaded innocent to all the charges, claiming they are the result of a Democratic plot to hurt her re-election chances.
Mrs. Hutchison was elected to the U.S. Senate on June 5 to fill the seat vacated when Lloyd Bentsen became treasury secretary. Five days later, investigators served subpoenas and collected boxes of computer records and other evidence from the Treasury.