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Jurors weighing corruption charges against ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa

February 1, 2018 Updated: February 2, 2018 at 6:17 am
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Former El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, left, enters the fifth floor of the South Tower of the Terry R. Harris Judicial Complex on Tuesday January 23, 2018 in Colorado Springs. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

Jurors deliberated for five hours Thursday without reaching verdicts in the retrial of ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, whose first trial last year ended in acquittals and a hung jury.

The seven-woman, five-man panel will resume deliberations Friday at 8:30 a.m.

Maketa, 53, is being retried on four charges involving claims of corruption: extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and two counts of official misconduct. If convicted of extortion, the former lawman could face up to six years in prison, though probation would also be an option.

During closing arguments Thursday, opposing attorneys painted clashing portraits of the three-term sheriff — with prosecutors saying they had proved Maketa wielded his authority as a weapon for political payback.

"Ultimately this comes down to power. That's the heart of every issue in this case," said special prosecutor Chris Wilcox, arguing that Maketa resorted to illegal retaliation when he got one jail employee fired and pursued potentially career-ending sanctions against two deputies.

Calling the allegations "ridiculous," Maketa's defense attorneys say he has been railroaded for what amounted to employment disputes lodged by disgruntled workers.

For 12 years Maketa made hard decisions - who should be disciplined, who should be fired and how best to service multimillion dollar jail contracts - all to ensure his office ran smoothly and to keep the community and his deputies safe, they argued.

"He did that. Now he's sitting in this room and they're trying to brand him a criminal," defense attorney David Kaplan told the panel.

The case involves allegations that were left unaddressed by Maketa's July mistrial, which ended when a deadlocked jury acquitted Maketa of three counts but failed to reach a verdict on the remaining charges.

Less than an hour into deliberations Thursday, jurors passed forward their first question, requesting the legal and dictionary definitions of extortion. Ruling that the dictionary definition wasn't relevant, 4th Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz responded in writing with the following language: "The legal definition (consists of) the elements contained in the instruction, and you are to be guided by that."

Later in the day, the jury asked another question. It wasn't read aloud in court, but Schwartz sent back a response telling jurors they had all the evidence they may consider before them.

The extortion counts allege that Maketa threatened to terminate a $5 million jail health care contract unless a private company fired Wendy Habert, a one-time Maketa confidant who allegedly ended up on his enemies list for refusing to support his chosen successor and instead backing then-candidate Bill Elder. She also angered him by reporting a sheriff's commander for sexual harassment, a complaint that Maketa allegedly dismissed despite the commander's admission. The defense said she was fired for a multitude of reasons, including her brassy demeanor and problems with the jail's detoxification ward.

The official misconduct charges, both misdemeanors, say Maketa pursued a "career killer" sanction against Sgt. Emory "Ray" Gerhart and James "Jim" Reid for reasons that also related to the coming campaign for sheriff. Gerhart was a vocal Elder supporter. Reid was mulling a run for sheriff against Maketa's preferred pick, making them targets according to the prosecution's view.

Both were described by the defense as problem employees who earned their discipline and deserved a place on the so-called Brady list, a court document identifying law enforcement officers who may have credibility problems.

By law, prosecutors must tender the Brady list to defense attorneys before any trial, potentially allowing for attacks on their integrity in court. Law enforcement witnesses say being on the Brady list can make it hard or impossible to get another job in the field.

The highest felony, extortion, carries a potential prison sentence of two to six years, and conspiracy to commit extortion is punishable by one to three years in prison. Probation is also a possibility if he is convicted.

Sarah Christensen, a Colorado Springs defense attorney unaffiliated with the case, said that if Maketa is convicted of both extortion counts, a single penalty would likely be imposed, because they involve similar acts.

The decision whether Maketa gets probation or prison time will fall to the judge, Christensen said.

"I have seen judges hold public officials to a higher standard and give them prison when they ordinarily they might not do so," she said. The misdemeanor counts of official misconduct each carry a potential sentence of three to 12 months, and could be stacked in the event of convictions because they involve separate victims, Christensen said.

There is no time limit on jury deliberations. Jurors must debate the charges until they reach unanimous decisions or determine that an agreement cannot be reached, at which time a mistrial would be called for any unresolved charges. In that case, prosecutors would again have the option of retrying Maketa.

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