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Sun, May 15, 2005

Former NASA Inspector Found Not Guilty

Avoids Jail Time

After closing arguments Friday, the jury took only two hours to reach not guilty verdicts in the remaining charges against Billy Thornton. He was acquitted of 2 fraud counts and two counts of making a false statement. He had been charged with 166 counts, but all but these four counts were thrown out Thursday.

As reported earlier, Thornton faced a potential of 15 years in prison and up to a $500,000 fine for each count. After the verdict, he said he was "elated." "Right now, all I want to do is relax and sleep," said Thornton to the AP.

Jurors said that the prosecution had not shown that Thornton had neglected to do his job. They said that the trial had shown shortcomings in the way NASA inspects the work of contractors.

"There was no defined protocol or set of rules for him to follow," said jury foreman Mark Dean, 45, of Orlando to the AP. "(NASA) needs to look at the inspection system, about how they check inspections. There are just a lot of gaps in NASA's oversight of contractors."

Joyce McArthur told the AP that her fellow jurors had a lot of doubt about the prosecution's case and found NASA's guidelines unclear. "I think a lot of this had to do with Columbia," said McArthur. "They needed a scapegoat."

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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