Jurors began their second full day of deliberations Wednesday morning in the retrial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who’s accused of orchestrating a scheme to thwart an FBI investigation into inmate mistreatment in the jails he ran and of lying to the bureau.
The eight-man, four-woman panel deliberated and went home without reaching a verdict Tuesday. Earlier, the jury sent a note to the judge, requesting a whiteboard for use in the deliberation room. The request was granted.
After nine days of testimony and more than a dozen witnesses, attorneys delivered closing arguments Monday. U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson then instructed the panel, which retired to deliberate at 2:45 p.m. before leaving 45 minutes later without reaching a verdict.
Jurors will deliberate each weekday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but could work later if they wish.
Baca is being tried in downtown Los Angeles on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to the FBI. The retired lawman was tried in December on the first two counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the lying count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and Anderson combined all three counts in the retrial, which began Feb. 22 with jury selection.
The charges partly stem from a 2011 incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted an FBI agent in the driveway leading into her apartment and falsely told her they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest. Baca denies having advance knowledge of the illegal attempt to intimidate the agent.
Nine former sheriff’s officials, including Baca’s top deputy, Paul Tanaka, have been convicted in the case.
If convicted of all charges, Baca faces up to 20 years in federal prison, according to prosecutors.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox used a chess analogy, calling Baca “a king” who used his subordinates as chess pieces in a tit-for-tat between the Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.
“The pawns and bishops go out to attack and do all the dirty work,” Fox said, adding that Baca was now trying to disown everything that happened.”
Nathan Hochman, Baca’s lawyer, countered that there was no chess game. “This wasn’t even a checkers game,” he said.
In his final argument, Hochman repeatedly pinned blame for the obstruction on Tanaka, who has already been convicted and is serving five years in federal prison.
Hochman insisted Baca, 74, did nothing to subvert the probe, but he actually “wanted to join the federal investigation.”
However, a second prosecutor insisted Baca was not only guilty, but he is especially culpable given his decades of experience in law enforcement.
“That experience is damning — not a positive — when you talk about committing these crimes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes told the jury as she summed up the government’s case.
Rhodes walked the jury through a timeline of the prosecution’s case, saying Baca orchestrated a conspiracy to derail the FBI probe into mistreatment of inmates at jails managed by the sheriff’s department, then lied to federal investigators about his involvement.
Baca “ran this conspiracy the same way he ran this department,” Rhodes said, telling jurors the ex-sheriff appointed Tanaka to oversee the scheme. At the same time, “the sheriff was having multiple briefings because he wanted to know every little thing that was going on,” the prosecutor said.
Baca ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years before he retired in 2014 amid allegations of widespread abuse of inmates’ civil rights.
The defense contends that the ex-sheriff is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and suffered some cognitive impairment as long as six years ago. However, the judge barred Hochman from presenting medical testimony during the retrial.
—City News Service