SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah attorney general was acquitted Thursday of bribery and evidence tampering charges in one of the highest-profile scandals in state history.
As the jury announced its verdict for John Swallow in a Salt Lake City courtroom, Swallow's wife and other family members sobbed and hugged one another. Swallow held back tears as one of his attorneys patted him on the back, later hugging each one of his family members in the gallery.
Jurors found Swallow not guilty of nine counts that also included obstruction of justice, falsifying government documents and misuse of public funds. He had faced one to 30 years in prison.
"I'm speechless. We're just so grateful and the system did work," Swallow said outside court. "I'm grateful for my lawyers, I'm grateful for my family and I'm grateful for my faith. We're just glad it's over."
Prosecutors accused Swallow of hanging a virtual "for sale" sign on the door to the state's top law enforcement office by taking campaign donations and gifts like beach vacations from fraudsters and businessmen in exchange for favorable treatment.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement that the verdict, "while disappointing to some, is proof that our judicial system works."
Gill said it was a complex case where jurors were asked to consider matters that weren't black and white but "various shades of gray." Gill thanked his prosecutors for their work and said they allowed the judicial process to play out fairly and publicly.
Two jurors who agreed to speak to the media said they just weren't firmly convinced Swallow was guilty of any of the charges after going back through each charge and creating timelines and charts of who said what.
"Without a doubt, almost every time the evidence just wasn't there to support the allegation," said Melissa Smith.
"There seemed to be gaps," added Sandra Buendia.
Swallow's defense attorneys argued that the case was a politically motivated smear campaign by a Democratic district attorney up for re-election and that prosecutors were twisting the facts to fit the story they wanted to tell.
Defense attorney Scott Williams said after the verdict he and his team could sense jurors were leaning their way as the three-week trial played out.
"This investigation appeared to us to be what was actually corruption, not what John Swallow had done," Williams said.
Swallow, 54, did not testify during the trial but maintained his innocence from the day he and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, were arrested in July 2014.
Their arrests culminated a shocking fall from grace for two men who vowed to root out fraud and uphold the laws of Utah as they served a combined 13 years as attorney general.
Swallow resigned in late 2013 after spending nearly 11 months dogged by bribery and corruption allegations that emerged less than a week after he took the oath of office. Swallow adamantly denied breaking any laws and said he stepped down because the scrutiny had become too much for him and his family.
The pair were accused of having cozy relationships with several businessmen who plied them with gold coins, lavish trips, flights on private planes and trips aboard a luxury houseboat. They also were accused of trying to cover up the scheme.
Shurtleff already has been cleared in the case. Charges against him were dismissed last year by prosecutors who cited infighting between agencies in the sprawling probe.
Asked what his plans are moving forward, Swallow said:
"To love my family and love my neighbors who have been so close to me and dear to me throughout this ordeal," said Swallow, adding, "and to maybe get a good night sleep for the first time in a couple of years."