WASHINGTON, Sept 19, 2013 - A Texas court on Thursday overturned the criminal conviction of former US Republican congressional leader Tom DeLay on money laundering and conspiracy charges, citing a lack of evidence.
In 2010, DeLay - a former speaker of the House known as "The Hammer" for his brass-knuckles style - was found guilty of illegally funneling corporate funds to political candidates during the 2002 campaign cycle and sentenced to three years in prison.
He was out on bail while his appeals case was reviewed by the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Texas, which overturned the conviction in a 2-1 ruling. "The fundamental problem with the state's case was its failure to prove proceeds of criminal activity," Justice Melissa Goodwin wrote in the majority opinion.
"Because we conclude that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain DeLay's convictions, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and render judgments of acquittal."
The court concluded that a political action committee, or PAC, created by DeLay and at the centre of the case could accept corporate donations, leaving the state unable to "support a finding of criminal intent by the corporations." The court said DeLay had not disputed the transfer of funds, but argued in his appeal that the transfer was above board.
DeLay and two associates stood accused of channeling $190,000 of corporate money through the Republican National Committee to hide the true source of donations to Texas candidates.
DeLay was trying to see elected a Republican majority in the Texas legislature in 2002 so the lawmakers would redraw the state's congressional districts to his liking.
The Travis County district attorney's office, which prosecuted the original case, disagreed with the appellate ruling.
"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," the district attorney's office said.
"We are preparing a response to this opinion and will ask the full Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the ruling." DeLay served as speaker of the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2005, when he resigned the post while facing the criminal case. He quit the House a year later.