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US Republican Tom DeLay facing life behind bars

Former US House of Representatives Republican leader Tom DeLay was facing the prospect of the rest of his life behind bars after being found guilty on two counts in an illegal campaign funding case.

DeLay was found guilty by a jury in Austin. DeLay believes that had he been tried elsewhere, like in his own home of Houston, he would have been acquitted.

So yesterday, while America stopped to eat turkey and cranberry stuffing for Thanksgiving, Mr DeLay was left to ponder his long slide to humiliation.

Sentencing in the case is set for December 20 and one of the two charges alone could technically put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

There remains the possibility that aggressive legal manoeuvring — the defence team has promised an appeal — or perhaps a pardon from Texas governor, Rick Perry, might just allow DeLay to enjoy retirement in freedom. His journey to the pinnacle of power among Republicans began when Newt Gingrich led the landslide takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994, which made DeLay party whip. In 2002 he became House Majority Leader.

DeLay's relentless rise came to a juddering halt when ties began to surface between him and the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including a golfing trip to Scotland paid for by the powerful lobbyist.

But worse trouble was brewing in Texas, where a District Attorney named Ronnie Earle had launched an investigation into claims of illegal campaign contributions orchestrated by DeLay in 2002 to Republican candidates running that year for the Texas state legislature. That same scheme has bought DeLay down.

At the heart of the Texas case was a sort of campaign donation shell game born out of state rules that made it illegal for corporations to contribute to candidates.

Jury members heard how a Political Action Committee associated with DeLay in Texas took $190,000 (£120,000) from private company donations, then sent it to an arm of the Republican National Committee in Washington, which in turn distributed it to seven Republican candidates running for the state legislature in Texas. Six of them went on to win.

With the help of those six victories, Republicans took back control of the Texas legislature for the first time since the end of slavery. But more importantly, that same legislature was later in charge of a redrawing of constituency boundaries in the state that helped DeLay significantly to reduce the number of Democrats sent by the Lone Star state to the US Congress in Washington.

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