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DeLay “headed to trial”

After day one of the pretrial hearings, Tom DeLay will get his trial, and he’ll go before his co-defendants.

Motions to dismiss the charges against the former Sugar Land-area representative on the grounds of misconduct by prosecutors remained pending late Tuesday, but visiting District Judge Pat Priest made clear that he likely would rule against dismissal. Priest then sealed the courtroom to hear arguments over secret grand jury proceedings leading up to DeLay’s indictment in 2005. The hearing is expected to continue today.

“The defense is standing in a very deep hole with a very short stick, but I don’t want to preclude them from presenting their case,” Priest said.

When DeLay and his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, of Houston, exited the courtroom they indicated they felt certain the case would go to trial. DeGuerin said it is only a question of “when and where.” DeLay is trying to have the trial moved to Fort Bend County.

In a major victory for DeLay, Priest ruled against a request by Travis County prosecutors that they be allowed to take two other defendants in the case to trial before DeLay. Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, who managed the political committee at the center of the controversy, have not been seeking a speedy trial, but DeLay has.

“We need to try Mr. DeLay first because he’s the one who has been wanting a trial,” Priest said. “There’s such a thing as a speedy trial and five years later it’s time he gets it.”

I suspect the reason for wanting to try Ellis and Colyandro first is more about optics than legal strategy. Convict them, and it ratchets up the pressure on DeLay. If they get acquitted, you can bet your mortgage that the charges against DeLay will be dismissed. Doing it the other way around, Ellis and Colyandro might see their charges dropped if DeLay prevails, even if the evidence against them is stronger. This case has always been about DeLay.

As for the change of venue motion, I don’t have any strong feelings about that. Frankly, I think enough time has passed that it shouldn’t be too hard to find a jury who isn’t familiar with the case, or its main actors, in any county. Tom DeLay just isn’t that notorious any more. Moving the trial to San Antonio or Waco would be fine by me. I note with amusement this poll that claims 40% of Travis County residents believe DeLay is guilty as charged. Putting aside the question of how many randomly sampled people believe any high-profile criminal defendant is “guilty” (my guess is that 40% isn’t far off the mark), it also says that 16% think he’s not guilty, while the rest don’t know or have no opinion. Given that the population of Travis County is a bit more than a million, reducing that by 15% to account for the foreign-born, reducing again by 24% to account for minors, the 44% of “don’t know/no opinion” people represent about 290,000 adult citizens. I’m guessing you could get a fair jury from that pool.

In the end, it didn’t matter.

District Judge Pat Priest said the U.S. Constitution requires a case to be tried where the crime occurred unless there is unusual prejudice against the defendant. Priest said he believes the former Sugar Land-area representative can be protected in the jury selection process.

“We can give Mr. DeLay a fair trial in Travis County,” he said.

Priest said he would not close off DeLay’s attorneys from raising the issue again if it proves impossible to pick an impartial jury. He set a tentative trial date of Oct. 26, a week before this year’s elections.

Something else to look forward to this year. Anyway, DeLay has sworn vengeance on the Travis County DA’s office after he wins his case. Mighty big talk for a guy who’s basically a nobody nowadays, but I guess having the spotlight back on him for a few days has given DeLay a bit of his old swagger back. And I couldn’t write all of this stuff about the man formerly known as The Hammer without acknowledging Juanita.

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