JACKSON, Miss. — The district attorney of Mississippi’s largest county was acquitted Tuesday of charges that he hindered prosecution of a drug defendant.
A jury found Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith not guilty of two counts of conspiring to hinder prosecution and one count of unlawfully providing advice to a criminal defendant.
Local media report the verdict came less than two hours after jurors had told a judge they were deadlocked 10-2 on all counts.
Jurors, who were sequestered, got the case after closing arguments Tuesday following a seven-day trial. They quickly returned to tell Judge Larry Roberts that they were deadlocked 10-2 on all three counts. Roberts told jurors to keep talking, and the holdouts quickly swung over.
Smith’s first trial ended in a hung jury in January.
Smith was accused of illegally intervening to get drug charges dismissed against Christopher Butler. Defense lawyers argued Tuesday that Smith had “genuine concern” that Butler had been framed, and that concern wasn’t a crime. Smith chose not to testify on his own behalf.
The case centered on video of a 2011 drug raid at Butler’s home. Smith had believed the video had been tampered with, but a prosecution witness earlier in the trial refuted those claims. The state was unable to play the entire video until after Smith’s first trial. But by the time Butler was convicted on drug charges a few weeks ago, investigators had extracted footage showing Butler himself stashing marijuana in an ottoman.
Smith’s defense lawyers said he didn’t know that at the time, when he made an unusual appearance before a county court judge as part of an effort to have Butler’s charges dismissed.
“He was concerned about someone’s civil rights,” said defense attorney Michael Sterling.
Smith later sought to indict a circuit judge and two assistant attorneys general involved in the Butler case. The case has been at the heart of tensions between Smith, on the one hand, and Hinds County judges and Attorney General Jim Hood, on the other hand.
“Robert Shuler Smith had breached the public interest in what he was doing in this case,” Assistant Attorney General Bob Anderson told jurors.
Jurors acquitted Smith even though at least one defense witness Monday seemed to bolster the prosecution’s case by saying Smith’s actions met the definition of hindering prosecution.