A judge dismissed indictments against Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Monday and told the southern Texas prosecutor who brought the case to exercise caution as his term in office ends.
Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra had accused Cheney and the other defendants of responsibility for prisoner abuse. The judge's order ended two weeks of sometimes-bizarre court proceedings.
Guerra is leaving office at the end of the month after soundly losing in his March primary election.
"I suggest on behalf of the law that you not present any cases to the grand jury involving these defendants," Administrative Judge Manuel Banales said in court while ruling that eight indictments against Cheney, Gonzales and others were invalid.
He also set a Dec. 10 hearing on whether to disqualify Guerra from those cases.
Even in defeat, Guerra saw the outcome as confirmation of the very conspiracy he had pursued. "I expected it," he said. "The system is going to protect itself."
Banales withheld judgment on whether probable cause existed for the Cheney and Gonzales indictments because they were not represented in court and did not present any argument. For the other defendants, he found no probable cause to support the charges.
A White House spokeswoman said Monday night that Cheney's office had no comment. A call to Gonzales' attorney was not immediately returned.
Three of the eight indictments returned Nov. 17 targeted private prison operator The GEO Group, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., Cheney and Gonzales, as part of an investigation into prisoner abuse at privately run federal prisons in the county.
Guerra ran the investigation into alleged prisoner abuse with a siege mentality. He worked it from his home, dubbed it "Operation Goliath" and kept it secret from his staff, he said. He gave all the witnesses biblical pseudonyms - his was "David."
Banales dismissed all eight indictments because GEO Group attorney Tony Canales showed that two alternate jurors were part of the panel that day but had not been properly substituted.
Five of the indictments - against two district judges, two special prosecutors and the district clerk - were dismissed because Guerra was the alleged victim, witness and prosecutor. The indictments accused the five of abusing their power by being involved in a previous investigation of Guerra.
The indictment against Cheney alleged that his personal investment in the Vanguard Group, which invests in private prison companies, made him culpable in alleged prisoner abuse at privately run federal detention centers.
Gonzales was accused of using his position to stop an investigation into abuses at a federal detention center.
Lucio was alleged to have used his Senate position to profit as a prison consultant, but Banales ruled that the indictment failed to address whether Lucio knew he was only being hired to consult because he was a state senator.
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