A mistrial was declared Thursday in the trial of ex-Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca after jurors told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked in favor of acquittal.
The 74-year old former sheriff, who is suffering from the early stages of dementia, is accused of conspiracy and obstruction during an FBI investigation into inmate abuses committed by deputies in Los Angeles County jails.
Baca told reporters that he always believed he would not be convicted.
“This is an extraordinary decision that I don’t think too many people thought would happen, but I had faith,” Baca said outside the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
Baca faces a second trial for making false statements to federal investigators in April 2013. Prosecutors contend Baca lied to the FBI about his knowledge of department efforts to subvert a federal probe into corruption and inmate abuse in the jail system. No date has been set for that trial. A status hearing on that case has been scheduled for Jan. 10.
In the conspiracy and obstruction case, jurors were split 11-1 in favor of acquittal. According to NBC Channel 4 News, the juror leaning toward conviction could not explain his position. Another juror told reporters there was “no smoking gun.”
Baca was facing 20 years in prison if convicted.
Outside the courthouse, Baca praised the jury for not “thriving on negativity,” according to NBC News.
Baca has confessed that during the investigation he instructed deputies to visit an FBI agent at her home and do “everything but arrest her.” The deputies attempted to convince the agent she would be arrested if she did not back off.
Baca later denied sending his deputies to visit the agent, but later admitted to doing it as part of a plea deal that did not pan out. Baca originally reached a deal with prosecutors that would have allowed him to do no more than six months behind bars in exchange for a guilty plea on one count of lying to the FBI.
But US District Court Judge Percy Anderson refused to accept the plea after deciding the sentence would not repair the public trust that he said Baca had violated.
In addition to lying, Baca also admitted that he ordered his Undersheriff Paul Tanaka to carry out a plan to hide an inmate that the FBI was using as an informant. Anthony Brown was allegedly rebooked under a number of different names and transferred to several locations in order to keep him from testifying before a federal grand jury.
Tanaka launched a failed bid to become sheriff but was soundly defeated by Jim McDonnell two years ago.
Tanaka received a five-year sentence for his role in efforts to hamper the investigation. Twenty other former sheriff’s officials have been convicted in connection with the scandal.
Baca retired in January 2014 following the indictment of 18 mostly low-level deputies by a federal grand jury. He won the sheriff’s seat in 1998 and cruised to re-election in the next two elections. He ran unopposed in 2010.