Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca could face time behind bars after a federal court on Monday rejected the appeal of his conviction on corruption charges.
Baca, who is 76 and has Alzheimer’s disease, was sentenced to three years in prison for obstructing an FBI investigation into abuses at the nation’s largest jail system. He was also convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice and lying to federal authorities.
In his appeal, Baca’s attorneys argued the verdict should be reversed because it was tainted by rulings from U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson during the trial. They focused on Anderson’s decision to bar the jury from hearing testimony about Baca’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and about a conversation he had with an aide about the FBI’s investigation.
Either piece of information could have helped sway the jury in Baca’s favor, defense lawyers argued.
A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those claims, ruling that the trial was fair and the conviction legally sound.
The Los Angeles Times said Baca’s lawyers have a few last-ditch options available, including asking the full 9th Circuit court to hear the case.
Baca was convicted nearly six years after he learned that a jail inmate caught with a contraband cellphone was working to provide the FBI with evidence of brutal beatings by guards.
Prosecutors said at trial that once the FBI investigation was exposed, Baca met with other brass in the department to stall that probe and mislead their federal counterparts. But the plan backfired. Federal investigators turned their attention to taking down higher-ups who conspired with the longtime sheriff to kill the civil rights investigation.
He was sentenced in May 2017.
Baca, who spent nearly 15 years as sheriff, initially pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to federal investigators. He withdrew the plea after Anderson rejected a sentence of no more than six months as too lenient.
It is not known how much Baca’s cognitive health has deteriorated, if at all, in the 18 months since he was sentenced and how his illness could play into any attempts at leniency, the Times reported.