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CIVIL-RIGHTS TRIAL Budd found guilty of all charges



Published: Fri, April 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- Unlike Michael Budd's cliffhanger first trial, a jury took less than eight hours to find the ex-Mahoning County deputy sheriff guilty of violating the civil rights of three jail inmates.

Budd, flanked by his defense lawyers, stood erect and stared straight ahead when the jury filed in on his right and the foreman handed the verdict envelope to U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells at 3:35 p.m. Thursday. As the judge read the verdicts, guilty on all three civil rights counts, Budd showed no emotion.

In the gallery, Budd's mother held her left hand over her mouth. His wife fought back tears.

The jury of nine women and three men concluded Budd:

UDeprived inmate Tawhon Easterly of his right to be free from excessive force that amounted to punishment in 2001. Budd directed deputies who had already beaten Easterly once for punching a female guard to beat him again and drag him naked back to his cell.

UDeprived inmate Brandon Moore of his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in 2002. Budd slammed Moore into a window and stepped on his back after the prisoner was sentenced for rape.

UDeprived inmate Stephen Blazo of his right to be free from excessive force that amounted to punishment in 2000. Budd yanked Blazo's ear and pushed a 150-pound table into the inmate during an interview at the jail.

Judge Wells set sentencing for July 7. Budd and his family then quickly left the courtroom.

Deliberations

Jurors deliberated about 21/2 hours Wednesday and 51/2 hours Thursday before announcing they had reached a verdict. The trial took about 51/2 days.

Jurors had only one question Thursday, a request to review the trial transcript of four witnesses. The judge told the panel to rely on their collective memories.

This was Budd's second trial on the three counts. On March 1, after six days of deliberations, a jury found him guilty of conspiring to obstruct justice, one prong of the two-prong first count in his four-count indictment.

Those jurors believed he covered up his link to Easterly's second beating by withholding a letter from the FBI that named him as the one who gave the order. Jurors deadlocked on the remaining three counts, which were retried.

Budd was indicted in October 2004. Sheriff Randall A. Wellington demoted Budd from major to deputy and placed him on paid leave, contrary to the union contract that states indicted employees are to be placed on unpaid leave.

Resignation

Budd resigned March 2, the day after his first guilty verdict, knowing his career in law enforcement was over. Testimony throughout both trials backed up the government's description of him as a "bully with a badge."

The 44-year-old Boardman man rose from deputy to major under Wellington. Unlike the first trial, the sheriff this time testified on Budd's behalf, telling the jury he didn't believe the charges against his right-hand man.

The sheriff called "bogus" a pre-employment report that revealed dishonesty in Budd. Likewise, the sheriff gave no credence to an Internal Affairs Division investigator's warning that Budd had a "propensity to become violent."

The jury, by its verdict, didn't share Wellington's assessment of his former major.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," Budd's lead attorney, Martin E. Yavorcik, said after court. "Now comes the sentencing and appeal."

Defense request

Yavorcik's colleague, Poland attorney Sebastian Rucci, said they will ask Judge Wells in July to allow Budd to remain free on bond pending appeal. Rucci said the case has many appellate issues.

Budd's lawyers said he likely faces a sentence of six years in prison. Prior to trial, he rejected plea deals the government offered for half that amount of time.

After Thursday's verdict, the prosecution team of Steven M. Dettelbach and Kristy Parker shared a brief handshake.

The case was investigated by the FBI and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation. Budd's conviction brings to eight the number of former corrections officers found guilty in the Easterly beating.

Sentencing for the seven men who pleaded guilty begins in May. Five of them testified against Budd.

meade@vindy.com




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