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Jurors in Carona trial didn't believe star witness [UPDATED]

January 16, 2009 |  3:05 pm

Carona2 Jurors who acquitted Michael S. Carona today of five of six felony charges said they listened to the government’s secretly recorded tapes over and over but didn’t believe the prosecution’s star witness.

Still, what swayed them most was Judge Andrew Guildford’s instruction that they must keep an eye on the calendar: Any of the 64 acts of corruption that prosecutors alleged had to have occurred within the last seven years -- the statute of limitations. The jury concluded the vast majority of them did not.

“As far as him being guilty of things outside of that, I don't know,” said one juror who identified himself only as Jim. “That's not our job, and that wasn't this case."

Some observers long believed the trial would come down to the testimony of Don Haidl.

The wealthy Newport Beach businessman and longtime Carona backer was the government's star witness, testifying that Carona solicited bribes, hocked the powers of political office and plotted furiously to enrich himself even before he was elected to run the second-largest sheriff's department in the state.

Carona's attorneys devoted most of their energy to chipping at Haidl's credibility, taking every opportunity during the trial to show that Haidl, a high school dropout who made millions in the car auction business, received a sweet plea deal when he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and that he could not be trusted.

“Do I think [Carona] was part of a lot of this stuff? Yes. But did the government prove it? No,” said juror Jerome Bell, 42, a truck driver from Anaheim. “His hand was in the cookie jar. He was just quick enough to wipe the crumbs off of his hands."

-- Mike Anton

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times