Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has been cleared of 27 felony charges that threatened to end the lawman’s career with a prison cell.
With the “not guilty” verdict on all charges, Hill can have the suspension of his law enforcement certification lifted and he can put behind him what he repeatedly called a politically-motivated prosecution.
After each count was read and the jury foreman delivered “not guilty” verdicts on each charge, Hill joined his attorneys for a group hug. After being told not to react to the verdict inside the courtroom, several Hill supporters went retreated to the hallway and cheered.
Prosecutors declined comment immediately after the verdict. The jury foreman, Markeith Crabb, told Channel 2 Action News, the prosecution failed to make its case.
“A lot of evidence wasn’t presented to find him guilty,” said Crabb, a 32-year-old rap artist.
Had Hill been convicted of all 27 charges — including racketeering, theft by taking, making false statements and violating his oath of office — he could have been sentenced to 455 years in prison.
Hill did not speak to reporters after the verdict and he did not join his defense team for a news conference in which they called Hill’s prosecution “ridiculous, despicable and unconstitutional.”
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.