Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A D.C. Superior Court magistrate judge found Marion Barry not guilty yesterday of driving while under the influence of alcohol and three associated charges.

“I am not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt,” for a guilty verdict, said Judge Richard Ringell after a six-hour, two-day trial of the charges filed against the D.C. Council member after he was stopped and arrested by Secret Service officer a few blocks north of the White House about 3:30 a.m. Sept. 10.

Mr. Barry was charged with driving while under the influence, operating a motor vehicle while impaired, driving an unregistered vehicle and misuse of temporary tags. The latter two charges involved a green 1995 Chevrolet Camaro that Mr. Barry said he had borrowed from a friend in Virginia while his car was in a repair shop.

The officers who arrested him said he stopped at a green light and drove through a red one. The agents testified that Mr. Barry smelled of alcohol, was stumbling and had red eyes and slurred speech.

Their testimony that they thought Mr. Barry was intoxicated were based on opinions and did not overcome a breath test that showed a .02 alcohol level, Judge Ringell said. The intoxication level is .08.

That was part of the argument in a closing statement by Mr. Barry’s attorney, Frederick Cooke Jr., who also emphasized Mr. Barry’s medical problems and age.

“I know my balance is off,” testified Mr. Barry, who is 71. “Age is one of the things … to your eyes and balance.”

Mr. Barry signed autographs and shook hands with supporters as he left the courthouse.

“First of all, let me thank God for this decision,” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything illegal, anything improper, anything wrong.”

Mr. Barry, who served six months in prison after he was videotaped smoking crack in a 1990 FBI sting during his third term as mayor, testified in his own defense yesterday.

“I had only one glass of wine, and there weren’t chemicals in my body,” he told the judge. He said he was taking at least five medications for his diabetes, high blood pressure and knee problems. “I don’t think I was impaired or under the influence.”

Mr. Barry said he tries not to drink at all during his recovery from substance abuse. But he said was having a celebratory drink that night with a state senator from Oklahoma after learning he would receive an award from the Congressional Black Caucus. Mr. Barry would not name the lawmaker, a woman who was with him in the car when he was arrested.

The man who served four terms as mayor and has had more than a few troubles with the law said he didn’t want to speculate on why he was arrested, but said there had been efforts over the years “to embarrass me and to break my spirit.”

“It won’t work,” he said.

When called to the witness stand, Mr. Barry rose slowly from his chair and walked slowly with stiff legs and clumsily stepped up on the stand to take the oath to be truthful. Sometimes during Mr. Cooke’s closing arguments, Mr. Barry’s eyes were closed. He appeared to be napping.

Judge Ringell set a trial date of Aug. 22 for Mr. Barry in a second incident, in which Mr. Barry was charged in December with driving an unregistered vehicle.

n This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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