Jury acquits Victor Hill in corruption trial

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CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. —

A jury found Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill not guilty of 25 charges, including racketeering, on Thursday, allowing Hill to maintain his position as sheriff.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne said pandemonium broke out in the hallway of the courthouse as Hill supporters heard the not-guilty verdict read in the courtroom.

Winne said as soon as the verdict was read, the judge thanked  jurors for their service and they were escorted out of the courtroom and whisked onto an elevator by security.

Winne spoke briefly to the jury foreman, Markeith Crabb, as they left court.

"It was just a lot of charges and a lot of evidence wasn't presented to find him guilty," Crabb said.

Hill, who has been very aloof since winning election again as sheriff, wouldn't comment to Winne about the verdict as he left the courtroom.

A news conference was held by Hill's attorneys outside the Clayton County Courthouse shortly after the verdict was handed down. Hill was not present, his lawyers saying Hill was too busy being the sheriff of the county.

His defense team called Hill's prosecution "ridiculous, despicable and unconstitutional."

"He will not dignify what was exposed in that courtroom," defense attorney Drew Findling said. "He feels an obligation to be sheriff, get back to be sheriff and as he said to me, he's fighting crime."

The case against the 48-year-old Hill was that he used his office — the first time he held it between 2004 and 2008 — for personal gain.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Hill drove his county-issued cars on out-of-state vacations, taking with him female companions who also worked for him. He used his county-issued credit card to buy gas while on the road, to buy electronics during his trip to south Florida the day after he lost his 2008 re-election bid and to pay $140 toward the cost of renting a three-bedroom cabin in Helen in the north Georgia mountains.

He was also charged with stealing from taxpayers when he had one of his traveling companions classified as on paid administrative leave and out sick so she could continue to get her county salary while vacationing with the sheriff.

The last of the charges accused Hill of having his then-spokesman Jonathan Newton work on his autobiography during county work hours and of steering kickbacks from a publisher to Newton.

The jury, composed of a white man, an Asian man, three black women and seven black men, deliberated two hours on Wednesday and then all day Thursday before they reached their decision.

The popular former legislator and homicide detective was first elected sheriff in 2004 and made national headlines when one of his first official acts was to fire 27 deputies and have them escorted from the building where Hill, the county's first black sheriff, had stationed sharpshooters. Eventually, the courts ordered them all reinstated and the county had to pay millions of dollars to resolve the lawsuit they brought.

He lost the August 2008 Democratic primary runoff to Kem Kimbrough, whom Hill then defeated in last year's Democratic primary runoff.