- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - A jury found a state lawmaker not guilty of charges of perjury and giving false information on Thursday in the first trial to come out of an investigation that targeted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

Jurors deliberated for about six hours over two days before finding Republican Rep. Barry Moore of Enterprise not guilty of two charges of perjury and two charges of giving false information.

Prosecutors had accused Moore of lying to a grand jury about comments he made to his 2014 primary opponent, Josh Pipkin.

Acting Attorney General W. Van Davis told jurors in closing arguments that Moore tried to bully Pipkin out of the race by saying Hubbard would withhold economic development funds for a project unless he withdrew. Moore later denied relaying the threat when he testified to a grand jury.

While prosecutors depicted Moore as a scheming liar, defense attorneys suggested Moore was the victim of a political setup. Defense lawyer Bill Baxley said prosecutors were trying to exaggerate Moore’s statements, which were captured in telephone conversations recorded by Pipkin.

“I’m grateful that the jury understood what was going on. I’m grateful that they found me not guilty,” Moore said outside the courtroom.

Moore’s wife, Heather Moore, sobbed aloud with relief in the courtroom as the final not-guilty verdict was read, and left the courtroom to call their daughters.

“It’s hard on me, but it’s so hard to watch your family go through this,” Barry Moore said.

Moore was one of three Republican legislators to face criminal charges in a corruption probe that targeted Hubbard, also a Republican and one of the most powerful politicians in Alabama. Hubbard was indicted a week ago on 23 felony ethics charges, accused of using his political positions to reap financial rewards for himself and his businesses. Former Montgomery Rep. Greg Wren resigned earlier this year after pleading guilty to misdemeanor ethics charges.

Moore, 48, was elected to the Legislature in 2010 when a slate of candidates recruited by Hubbard helped Republicans win control of the House and Senate for the first time in 136 years. Davis told jurors that Hubbard “owned” Moore and didn’t want to see him defeated.

“Along with the help of the speaker, or using the speaker, he tried to bully Josh Pipkin out of this race,” Davis said of Moore.

Hubbard, who will be arraigned in the same Lee County courtroom next month, issued a statement praising the jury’s decision and lashing out at prosecutors.

“Today, the justice system worked when 12 men and women in Lee County saw through the political agenda of rogue prosecutors and cleared Barry Moore’s name,” Hubbard said.

Republican Attorney General Luther Strange stepped aside from the case and appointed Davis, a retired district attorney, to handle the case. Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart is another key prosecutor in the case. Hart is a former assistant U.S. attorney who led the federal investigation into the two-year college system.

The cornerstone of the case against Moore were telephone conversations recorded by Pipkin discussing state money for an expansion of Enterprise Electronics, a company that manufactures weather radar systems. Prosecutors urged jurors to consider the context of the discussions, but defense lawyers said the calls show Moore didn’t do anything wrong.

“Are we going to lose a whole bunch of jobs if I do this?” Pipkin asked in the first conversation he recorded.

“I’ve got a meeting with the speaker at the first of the week and he is furious,” Moore replied.

During the trial, Moore took the witness stand in his own defense, and testified that he never made, or relayed, any threats. He testified that Hubbard was unhappy that Moore had primary opposition, but he didn’t threaten the project.

Moore acknowledged a portion of his grand jury testimony was incorrect, but said it was a mistake and not a deliberate omission. Moore said he didn’t fully remember the conversation with Pipkin, which had taken place several months earlier.

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