Former lawmaker found guilty in bribery case
Oklahoma former state Rep. Randy Terrill, left, R-Moore, and his attorney, Chris Eulberg, right, listen to opening statements in his bribery trial in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) Image by AP
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A former Oklahoma lawmaker accused of offering a state legislative colleague a job in exchange for her promise not to seek re-election was found guilty of felony bribery Tuesday.
A 12-member jury returned the verdict in the case of former state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, after deliberating for about four hours.
The jury recommended a one-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine, the maximum amount. The charge is punishable by up to two years in prison.
Terrill showed no emotion when the verdict was read. He was handcuffed and placed in the custody of the Oklahoma County sheriff's office.
Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Harmon said prosecutors were pleased with the jury's verdict. Defense attorney Chris Eulberg said the verdict is a letdown.
"I'm very disappointed," Eulberg said, adding that he hopes to overturn the verdict on appeal.
Judge Cindy Truong set a hearing on an appeal bond for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and scheduled formal sentencing for Dec. 5. If granted, the bond would allow Terrill to remain free as he appeals his conviction.
Oklahoma County prosecutors alleged that Terrill offered to put former Democratic state Sen. Debbe Leftwich in an $80,000-a-year job at the medical examiner's office if she would agree to not seek re-election in 2010 so a Republican, current state Rep. Mike Christian of Oklahoma City, could run for her open seat.
But Terrill testified earlier Tuesday that he did not offer Leftwich a job and that she never asked him for one.
"Never," the former legislator replied when Eulberg asked Terrill if he had ever offered anything to Leftwich. "I don't have the authority to offer anyone a state job."
Prosecutors filed bribery charges against Terrill, 44, and Leftwich, 62. Leftwich is scheduled for trial on Dec. 9. She has pleaded not guilty.
Christian was never charged, never sought Leftwich's seat and was re-elected to the state House.
Terrill, best known as the author of Oklahoma's tough immigration law adopted by the Legislature in 2007, was convicted of offering a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy. Leftwich is accused of soliciting a bribe for withdrawal of candidacy.
Prosecutors allege Terrill wrote a bill that would create the job of "transition coordinator" at the medical examiner's office for Leftwich and used a separate bill to divert $90,000 to the office from a fund at the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. Then-Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed both measures after the bribery allegations surfaced.
A witness for the prosecution, Cherokee Ballard, a former television reporter who worked as the legislative liaison for the medical examiner's office in 2010, testified she and the agency's chief administrative officer, Tom Jordan, felt pressure from Terrill, who made it known he wanted Leftwich hired for the post.
"We felt like we didn't have a choice," Ballard said.
During his testimony Tuesday, Terrill denied telling officials at the medical examiner's office to hire Leftwich for the job and said their memories of the conversations were confused.
He said the measure creating the new position was approved only after it received majority votes in both the state House and the Senate.
"I cannot do anything by myself," Terrill said. "I'm a bill manager, and my job is to move the bill through the process."
Defense attorneys have said Terrill did not have the authority to promise Leftwich a job, and that Leftwich wasn't technically a candidate for re-election because she never filed the required paperwork with the state Election Board. Terrill left the Legislature last year.
Defense attorneys have also said the actions of Terrill and Leftwich were constitutionally protected because they were acting in their official capacity as legislators.
In his closing argument, Eulberg said prosecutors had not proven Terrill had committed a crime and that evidence in the case was merely "an illusion."
"They failed to prove that Representative Terrill did anything that was illegal," Eulberg told Terrill's jury. "You cannot convict on rumors."
But prosecutors said the evidence was clear Terrill manipulated legislation, and his colleagues.
"He almost got away with it," Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger said.
Harmon said Terrill's actions had affected the integrity of state government.
"Manipulation, power and control," Harmon said. "This is a hard game."
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