FRESNO — In little more than an hour of deliberation, a federal jury today acquitted retired Stanislaus County sheriff's captain Raul DeLeon of all charges against him.
As the words "not guilty" sounded in the courtroom, DeLeon's wife Patty sobbed with relief.
"I haven't felt this good in the last year and a half, since this whole mess started," a beaming DeLeon said outside the courtroom. "This just proves what I said all along, that I never did anything wrong. This case should have never been brought forth."
DeLeon, 52, was charged with one count of conspiring to obstruct justice and four counts of making false statements to investigators. If convicted, DeLeon could have gone to prison for up to 25 years and paid up to $250,000 in fines.
After the verdict was read, DeLeon visited the jury room to talk to the 12 strangers who decided his fate. Jurors crowded around DeLeon, greeting him with teary hugs, smiles, and encouragement.
Juror Kim Rocha said from the start of the three-day trial, the government's case against DeLeon seemed weak. To jurors, said Rocha, it seemed as if DeLeon had been "railroaded."
The charges against DeLeon stemmed from an FBI investigation into the Road Dog cycle shop in Denair. Authorities say Bob Holloway, a former Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy, ran a chop shop and trafficked in stolen motorcycle parts. Holloway is in custody awaiting trial. No date has been set.
Prosecutors said DeLeon gave sensitive law enforcement information to Holloway and knew of illegal activity related to Holloway's business, but didn't tell authorities. They said DeLeon lied when investigators later asked him about his communications with Holloway, and lied about whether he and Holloway were friends.
DeLeon's was the first of several Road Dog-related cases to go to trial. About 12 other defendants have been charged. Defense attorney Carl Faller, who represents retired corrections officer Stephen Johnson in another case, said attorneys watched DeLeon's trial with interest. Faller said he hopes Friday's verdict will lead prosecutors to re-evaluate the other cases.
"It should give the prosecutors pause as to whether all the other defendants can be pursued in the same way they pursued Mr. DeLeon," Faller said.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laurel Montoya and Mark Cullers declined to give detailed comments after the verdict. "We respect the jury's decision," said Montoya. Outside the courtroom, Cullers asked one juror what prosecutors could have done better.
Defense attorney Paul Q. Goyette said he was happy with the verdict, but his client had "paid a tremendous price."
"People don't know how difficult it is for someone like Raul DeLeon to become a criminal defendant and go through this process," said Goyette. "It's demeaning and humiliating."
In the jury room after the trial, jurors peppered DeLeon with comments and questions. "Your attorney is worth his weight in gold," said one. "Your people threw you under the bus," said another.
Another was curious about Bob Holloway — was he as dirty as prosecutors said? DeLeon said he didn't know.
Jurors also poked fun at what they saw as prosecutors' thin evidence. They laughed about how investigators intercepted only three phone calls between DeLeon and Holloway — out of 16,000 calls that the government monitored from Holloway's phones. Prosecutors said those three calls proved DeLeon and Holloway conspired to obstruct justice.
Talking to jurors, DeLeon shared glimpses of what life was like after charges were brought against him. "I've been living a nightmare," he told the jurors.
"We could tell by your face," said juror Jamie Lowitz.
DeLeon described how 10 FBI agents searched his office and took his computer. When he was arrested in July 2008, he said, authorities shut down the street around his Modesto house and told him to come out with his hands up. He spent the night in Fresno County Jail, where an inmate he once arrested recognized him.
DeLeon started his career in law enforcement at age 17 as a scout with the Stanislaus County sheriff's office. He rose through the ranks, serving as one of three captains in the department.
DeLeon was commander of the operations division, overseeing the Special Weapons and Tactics team, along with the patrol and investigations units. In December 2007, he was placed on administrative leave in the midst of the Road Dog investigation. He retired in 2008.
Jurors said DeLeon's long, unblemished law enforcement career and "the way he carried himself" helped convince them of his innocence.
DeLeon said prosecutors offered him several plea deals, including one where he wouldn't have served any prison time or paid any fines — but he refused them all.
DeLeon said he and his wife were grateful for the phone calls, cards and other tokens of support they'd received.
DeLeon said he would probably hold a "big family get-together" this weekend. "We'll do a little celebrating," he said, "after this nightmare."
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2378.