Mpls. lawyer Garcia acquitted of rape

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2010 - 10:25 PM

The defense said the Minneapolis lawyer was unprofessional but not a rapist, and the jury agreed.

Jailed Minneapolis lawyer Al Garcia won acquittal Monday after a trial in which a prospective client alleged that he forced her to have sex at his office in a cocaine-fueled, after-hours assault.

Garcia never took the stand during the trial in Hennepin County Court, but his lawyer, Paul Edlund, said the sex and the drugs were consensual.

The jury took only a few hours to return the verdict after more than a week of testimony by four women. Several members of Garcia's family jumped up and shouted, "Yes" when the verdict was read. The accuser sat silently in the courtroom holding the hands of supporters. She remained silent, but tears ran down her face. One Garcia supporter turned to the teary woman and said, "Wonderful, wonderful."

Prosecutors said the incident occurred in Garcia's office on Aug. 7, 2008. Garcia's accuser testified that he grabbed her and forced himself on her. She claimed that she escaped when Garcia, in a paranoid state, crawled under his desk with his pants around his ankles. In her closing argument Monday morning, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy said Garcia "took his position of power and he worked it into something unrecognizable, offensive and blatantly criminal."

Although Garcia was acquitted on one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, he remains in custody. He is just beginning a five-year federal sentence on a drug charge related to an attempt last February to take drugs as payment for legal services in a sting operation conducted by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents.

Early in their deliberations Monday, jurors asked to hear a re-cording of a telephone call in which Garcia allegedly asked Lamont Nelson, a former jail inmate, to make sure that his accuser wouldn't be around to testify against him. The recording, however, was all but unintelligible.

Garcia, 50, started his career as a Minneapolis City Council aide, worked as a lobbyist, and then started a criminal defense practice. This trial began last week before Judge Philip Bush. Days before the trial began, Garcia tried to fire Edlund, saying he was ineffective, but Bush rejected the move, which would have delayed the trial.

In his closing argument, Edlund repeatedly said Garcia's accuser had no physical injuries after the purported attack, which he said cast doubt on the allegations of multiple penetration against the woman's will. "There was sex, there was drugs and there was consent," Edlund said.

Edlund said that Garcia's behavior with the woman -- and three others who testified last week -- was unprofessional, but that he "is not a rapist."

In addition to the alleged victim, two women testified that Garcia propositioned them during discussions about legal fees for relatives. A third woman testified that she performed a sex act on Garcia because she was afraid he would otherwise drop her son as a client and keep her money.

On the stand, she described various acts performed against her will and said Garcia put cocaine on her private parts. Edlund, however, noted that when she complained of burning from the cocaine, Garcia got her water and put it on her. "That is unbelievable," Edlund said.

He also ridiculed the idea that the woman spent 78 minutes with Garcia; subtracting 30 minutes for the legal discussion would have left only "48 minutes for this all-out, knock-down, drag-out rape," Edlund said.

Sweasy, a highly regarded veteran prosecutor, noted the testimony of a nurse who said rapes with injuries are rare. She said the best evidence of Garcia's guilt was the phone conversation recorded by ATF agents. She noted he also asked Nelson for help in getting a new identity and credit so he could escape.

Garcia faces a related felony witness-tampering charge.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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Al Garcia