HEADLINE: Ex-guard acquitted of sex charge Federal jury returns innocent verdict in incident with an inmate.
BYLINE: Jerry Bier THE FRESNO BEE
A federal court jury took less than 90 minutes Friday to find a former federal correctional officer innocent of misdemeanor charges that she had sexual relations with an inmate.
A sobbing Tammy L. Isbell stood and thanked the 11 women and one man on the jury for "giving me my life back."
Isbell, 42, was accused of performing oral sex on inmate Baltazar Magana in a darkened conference room at the Taft Prison Camp on Aug. 12, 1999.
Shortly before the jury began its deliberations, Isbell's lawyer, Richard Berman, had beseeched the jurors: "You are liberty's last champion. Let her go out with Paul (her husband) today into that beautiful sunlight."
Berman, who had said he expected to call 41 witnesses in her defense, chose instead not to present a defense for Isbell, but attacked as lies the prosecution testimony of Magana and a prison guard who found Isbell in the conference room with the inmate.
"We were able to use their witnesses to show there was no reason to find her guilty," Berman said. "She was in fact innocent."
In her closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Virna L. Santos had told the jury it was undisputed that Magana was in an area with Isbell that was off-limits to inmates and on a floor in which she was the only guard on duty.
Isbell also attempted to block a supervisor's entry into the room when she was discovered with Magana, Santos noted, lending credence to allegations she had done something wrong.
The jury foreman, the lone man on the panel, told Magistrate Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill: "You picked a good jury. We just had a good time and got to know each other."
Prison guards who fraternize with inmates are subject to dismissal. Guards who engage in sexual contact are subject to criminal charges. Isbell resigned her job after the alleged incident. Both the Taft Correctional Institution and the camp are privately operated by the Wackenhut Corrections Corp. under government contract.