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Did jury view Camps case as political?

Favorable, disinterested jurors seemed to help ex-Valencia chief win acquittal

Once the jury read out its verdict acquitting Francisco Camps and Ricardo Costa of accepting luxury items from the corrupt Gürtel businessmen's network - with five votes in favor of the defendants and four votes against them - the presiding judge warned all nine of them that their deliberations were secret and must be "forever" kept that way.

The panel members, all residents of Valencia province, are barred from explaining how they reached their verdict after spending two-and-a-half days in isolation. Their names cannot be revealed, nor any information that might lead to their direct identification.

It is, however, possible to point out that the verdict did not come as a surprise to those who followed the trial inside the room - around 20 people who included relatives and close friends of the defendants.

The makeup of the jury, whose members were selected at random, represented a cross-section of Valencian society, where the Popular Party (PP) has won sweeping victories for the last 16 years.

Since relatively early on, it soon seemed clear that two members in particular looked favorably upon the defendants' arguments.

It was especially evident in the case of one of the men, who was appointed spokesman during the deliberation period. This jury member tirelessly wrote down all the statements made by the defense attorneys, yet devoted a lot less energy to jotting down the words of the anti-corruption prosecutors and the Socialist Party lawyer representing the people's prosecution. On one occasion, he refused to examine one of the incriminating documents and passed it right along to the next jury member without so much as a glance.

He repeatedly made comments about the evidence to his colleagues around him, and it became evident during the second half of the trial that he and his neighbor in the front row were on the same wavelength. Both chatted frequently, putting their hands in front of their mouths so nobody would guess what they were talking about.

The three other jury members in the first row seemed to follow the entire trial attentively, taking notes and reacting to the evidence.

The same can be said for the two stand-by jurors, who did not participate in the final deliberations. In the upper row, there was a young man who barely took notes and did not seem to harbor any sympathy for the accused; two women in their fifties, who seemed to pay scant attention to what was going on in the courtroom; and a very young man who received constant indications from the jury spokesman regarding the documents that were being passed around.

If the trial had conformed to the reactions seen in these people's faces, one would have to say that the jury seemed increasingly inclined to find the defendants guilty.

Camps' defense lawyers seemed to win them over in the first half of the trial, but in the second half - with all its incriminating evidence presented - they appeared to be leaning toward a guilty verdict. The statements by the government and people's prosecutors seemed to convince those who appeared doubtful. But not enough of them.

A bench trial would not have acquitted him

Yours truly must have sat in the wrong courtroom, with a defendant who resembled Camps but was clearly someone else. Yet I assure you that inside that room, people were talking about dress suits from Milano and Forever Young, and you could hear recorded conversations featuring the voice of a man named Álvaro Pérez who no longer sports a mustache but was then known as "El Bigotes." And there was a television screen on the left of Judge Climent (or perhaps it was his double) showing documents with amounts of money and lists of suits and the surnames Camps and Costa. There were even receipts showing that those same amounts were paid for by a network called Gürtel. I'm going to find myself in a right pickle when my editor finds out I sat in on the wrong trial!

Then again, I cannot entirely rule out that I was at the right Camps trial, and that the people's jury is the one who made a mistake and sat in the wrong room, the one with the other Camps. This is really confusing. The courtroom I was in, which I believe was the right one, contained a wealth of evidence with explicit recordings, revealing testimony and irrefutable, incriminating documents against the former Valencian premier and his aide, Ricardo Costa. Although yours truly has covered hundreds of trials, very rarely have I observed the kind of conclusiveness with which Camps' allegations were pulled apart day after day. Rarely have I witnessed the blunt way in which the embarrassing attempts by some clothing providers to conceal that the suits were purchased by Gürtel, rather than by Camps, were unmasked in court. It was very unsettling to learn that a computer expert at the Forever Young clothing store was forced to manipulate the database so the receipts would show Camps' name rather than Pérez's.

The jury was asked - they say that one or two sympathetic winks were aimed from their seats in the direction of the defendant at the beginning of the hearing - whether Camps received gifts, jewels and suits from El Bigotes and the Gürtel network "on account of his holding public office." And the jury said no, and acquitted him. One must deduce that there were gifts given (if indeed we are talking about the same trial!) but not on account of Camps' position. In other words, the Christmas card that El Bigotes sent Camps (immortalized in recordings where El Bigotes could be heard saying "I owe you so much, Mr Premier") demonstrated nothing more than generosity. Little Álvaro's selfless devotion to the downtrodden is a well-known fact in the region of Valencia, of course. His works of charity have drawn more than one tear of gratitude. Naturally, the gifts are completely unrelated to the seven million euros in contracts that his company received arbitrarily from the Camps administration. Although he may have received that from the other Camps.

There is one thing that is certain, in my mind: a bench trial would not have acquitted him. It is possible to appeal, and then the case will indeed go before professionals.

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