Mistrial declared in sheriff's Deputy James Sexton's corruption trial

ByMiriam Hernandez and ABC7.com staff via KABC logo
Friday, May 23, 2014
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A mistrial was declared Thursday in the Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy James Sexton's corruption trial.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- After two days of deliberations, a mistrial was declared Thursday in Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy James Sexton's corruption trial.

Sexton was just the first of seven sheriff's department officials to be tried on charges he conspired to hide Anthony Brown, an inmate-turned-FBI informant. Brown had been providing information to federal agents on abuse and corruption within L.A. County jails during the summer of 2011.

"I feel at peace with the outcome as far as James Sexton goes. I felt the government's case wasn't strong enough to convict a man," said Marvin Padilla, juror 12.

Padilla described passionate debate over Sexton, the defendant who never disputed that he helped conceal Brown.

The jury was split 50/50. It was an emotional moment in court, as the 29-year-old deputy embraced his wife upon hearing that jurors were deadlocked.

Lead defense attorney Tom O'Brien tells Eyewitness News, "There's not a jury out there examining the facts of this case that would convict James Sexton."

O'Brien described his client as "collateral damage" in a turf war between the LASD and the FBI.

Sexton was the lowest ranking of the seven charged. The U.S. attorney said the government's plan was to work from the bottom up.

In an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News, Brown said he was kidnapped by deputies, isolated and watched around the clock.

"I was kidnapped, my name was changed," Brown said. "They put me in cars late at night and took me places. I think I had more than a dozen guards on me 24/7."

Witnesses testified that orders to repeatedly move the inmate and change his name came from former Sheriff Leroy Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Baca was not called to testify at this trial, but Tanaka, who is running for L.A. County sheriff, took the stand. He said he believed the orders to be "lawful" and that he expected his subordinates to follow those orders.

Sexton later cooperated with the grand jury investigation, explaining what he and others did. The prosecution used his own words to charge him.

The defense says he was just being overeager to help, and half the jury agreed, according to Padilla.

"To me, he seemed kind of like a puppy dog, eager to please," Padilla said. "That goes either to his intelligence or how gullible or naive he was. I just felt he wanted to please all sides."

Padilla said he still has questions about Sexton's orders.

"Somebody knew what was going on, and something definitely stinks," Padilla said.

The sheriff's department claimed Brown was hidden for his own protection, to keep him safe from possible retaliation from corrupt deputies who might view him as a snitch.

It is not yet known whether Sexton will be retried. The decision is expected to be announced at a status conference set for June 6.

Six other current and former deputies, sergeants and lieutenants go on trial in the same case beginning next week. The two sergeants are accused of going to FBI Agent Leah Marx's home and threatening her with arrest. All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Opening statements in that trial are scheduled for Tuesday.