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Jury acquits Scrushy

Richard Scrushy and wife Leslie raise their hands  after Richard Scrushy was acquitted of all charges. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Richard Scrushy and wife Leslie raise their hands after Richard Scrushy was acquitted of all charges. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Jay Reeves Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The flashy persona of the multimillionaire with mansions, yachts and country music bands was long gone as Richard Scrushy sat in the packed, tension-filled courtroom.

The founder of HealthSouth Corp., who helped scrub Birmingham’s image with money for parks and roads as his medical rehabilitation chain spread to all 50 states, awaited the decision Tuesday of 12 mostly working class jurors in his corporate fraud trial.

Then as the 36 counts in the verdict were swiftly read — one “not guilty” after another — Scrushy began to cry, raising a handkerchief to his eyes. What he called two years of torture was over — a rare victory for an embattled executive in a string of corporate scandals.

“I’m going to go to a church and pray,” Scrushy said as he left court. “I’m going to be with my family. Thank God for this.”

The verdict was a stunning setback for federal prosecutors who sought to add his name to a list of CEOs convicted of fraud.

With all five former CFOs pleading guilty and testifying that Scrushy led a scheme to inflate earnings by $2.7 billion at the rehabilitation and medical services chain, some viewed the government’s case as stronger than in other fraud trials.

Yet when it finished 21 days of deliberations, the last five with an alternate replacing a sick juror, the panel acquitted Scrushy of all 36 counts of fraud, false corporate reporting and making false statements to regulators.

Eight jurors who met with reporters after the verdict said key witnesses were not credible and the prosecution failed to present substantial evidence linking the fraud to Scrushy.

Emerging from the building to cheers from his supporters, Scrushy said, “You’ve got to have compassion, folks, because you don’t know who’s next. You don’t know who’s going to be attacked next.”

Scrushy still faces civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission which some experts say are more likely to be successful for the government.

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