Four cops convicted in Miami
Compiled from Times wires
MIAMI -- A federal jury wrestled for more than three weeks with the largest Miami police corruption case in decades before rendering a split decision Wednesday: convictions of four veteran officers, acquittals of three, deadlocks on three and one verdict split between acquittal and deadlock.
The 11 officers, once members of elite undercover squads, stood with blank expressions as the verdicts were read. Jurors left the building without commenting.
The officers were accused of conspiring to plant guns on unarmed suspects or lying to investigators about four police shootings between November 1995 and June 1997. Three men were killed and one was wounded.
The jury issued guilty verdicts against Arturo Beguiristain, Jorge Castello, Oscar Ronda and Jesus Aguero.
All four were accused of taking part in the coverup of a police shooting that wounded an unarmed homeless man in June 1997. Beguiristain and Aguero also was implicated in a March 1996 case in which a gun was planted to justify Aguero's firing three shots at an unarmed purse snatcher.
The jury acquitted Rafael Fuentes, Eliezer Lopez and Alejandro Macias, all members of the Miami SWAT team, who were charged in the April 1996 shooting of a 72-year-old man killed in a barrage of 123 bullets as his 14-year-old great-granddaughter crouched nearby. The officers were serving a drug search warrant.
Another defendant, Jose Acuna, also was acquitted on two counts in connection with the SWAT shooting. But the jury deadlocked on two other counts against him: his alleged participation in the overall conspiracy as well as his role in the shooting of the homeless man.
The jury also could not reach unanimous verdicts on Jorge Garcia, Jose Quintero and Israel Gonzalez. They were accused of participating in a coverup following the fatal 1995 shootings of two tourist robbery suspects who leaped from a highway overpass while fleeing police.
U.S. District Judge Alan Gold declared mistrials for those three defendants plus Acuna on the two deadlocked counts. It is unclear if prosecutors will retry them.
Gold scheduled sentencing for the four convicted cops for Aug. 22. They each face up to 10 years in prison.
Miami police Chief John Timoney said the four convicted officers will be fired and the rest would remain on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
The conspiracy trial, which began Jan. 20 with jury selection, was the highest-profile Miami police corruption case since the mid 1980s, when rogue cops peddled cocaine they stole from drug traffickers. In that case, more than 100 officers were arrested, fired or disciplined.
In this case, federal prosecutors said the defendants thought they were "untouchable" and they called two retired officers who told of cover stories being cooked up on unwarranted shootings.
The 11 officers and their supporters decried the federal case as a witch hunt, pointing out that police ruled all the shootings justified and state prosecutors declined to bring charges.
"The ones that should be under indictment should be the government for all the lying and tampering they have done," one of the acquitted officers, Alex Macias, said after the verdicts were announced.
The minority community saw a different picture. For years it has complained that police fired shots with impunity and planted guns and other evidence to justify bad shootings.
The three people who died in the four shootings were African-American. A fourth person who was shot at, but not wounded, was also black.
Other circumstances of the cases exacerbated racial tensions -- all 11 defendants were Hispanic.
The two officers who were originally indicted with the 11 but chose to plead guilty and testify were white.
Eleven of the original 12 jurors were Hispanic or white. Only one black juror deliberated the entire case.
Outrage over police shootings led to Miami police Chief Raul Martinez's resignation last November, policy changes, the creation of a civilian shooting review board and millions of dollars paid out to settle lawsuits.
The trial began on the same day the city installed the new police chief, former Philadelphia Chief Timoney.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire