‘The truth is out’

Published 10:15 am Sunday, September 14, 2008

COURTLAND—Now that a jury has found him innocent of a perjury charge, former Franklin police detective Edwin J. Delgado looks forward to the opportunity to resume his career in law enforcement.

“It’s been a long nine months,” he said outside the courtroom Friday morning, adding that he had been working as a collections agent and dipping into his retirement fund to make ends meet since he was indicted.

“I’m glad the jury noticed that I did nothing wrong, and I did not lie,” Delgado said following the verdict. “The truth is out.”

Franklin Police Chief Phil Hardison said following the jury’s verdict that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the possibility of Delgado returning to the police force he had served for eight years before losing his job during the investigation.

Friday’s verdict concluded a frustrating chain of events that began with a traffic stop Delgado made in August 2007 and reached a low point in April 2008 with his indictment on a single perjury charge.

A Southampton County grand jury indicted him based on an investigation by the Virginia State Police into statements the detective made in a Franklin court when he was testifying against the reckless driving suspect.

As a detective, Delgado did not have radar in his city-issued Chevy Malibu, but he paced the suspect Aug. 29, 2007, doing 51 mph along Pretlow Street and issued him a reckless-driving summons.

Two days later, Delgado had his speedometer calibrated. In November, he presented the results of that test in court when a public defender asked for proof that a test had been done.

The judge then asked Delgado why he did not have a calibration report to show from prior to the arrest. He responded that he had the tests done regularly and that he had probably thrown the results away, according to courtroom testimony on Thursday.

A special prosecutor brought to Southampton to try the case presented evidence that raised some doubt about whether the detective had kept up with the Police Department’s policy of requiring calibrations every six months.

However there were also problems exposed with the department’s administrative and clerical procedures, since even the dates that a certain officer drove a certain car were unable to be verified. Also, there was little, if any, apparent oversight to ensure that officers were getting their calibrations done.

A jury of seven women and five men took less than half an hour on Friday to return a verdict of “not guilty” on the charge that Delgado had lied in court about whether he had gotten his speedometer calibrated.

Jurors had spent most of Thursday in Southampton Circuit Court hearing evidence in the case. Attorneys for both sides concluded their closing arguments at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday, and the judge recessed court, giving the jury the night to consider what had transpired that day.

Courtroom observers suggested that the extra time for reflection might have made the decision an easier, or at least quicker, one for jurors.

Whether the police department’s lax record-keeping played a part in the jury’s decision was unclear, but defense attorney Eric Korslund made the uncertainties those records raised a centerpiece of his closing argument.

“There’s a lot of gray (areas) here, with the fuzzy records,” he said. And, even if the jury decided to believe Delgado had not had his speedometer calibrated prior to making the reckless driving arrest, Korslund added, “He is not on trial for not having his vehicle calibrated.”

Franklin’s Chief Hardison said following Friday’s verdict that his department had learned some lessons from the case, especially regarding the administrative and clerical procedures related to calibrations.

“We changed those things, once we recognized the deficiencies, immediately,” he said.

In fact, Franklin District Court Clerk Brenda Nance, whose office keeps copies of the calibrations on file, testified that she has received 30 of the reports thus far in 2008, compared with only six in all of 2007.