WASHINGTON (USA TODAY)-- A Texas court threw out the money-laundering conviction of former House majority leader Tom DeLay, saying prosecutors failed to prove that he broke the law in a fundraising scandal from the 2002 elections.
The Texas Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Justice Melissa Goodwin, said instead that "the evidence shows that the defendants were attempting to comply with the election code limitations on corporate contributions."
"The evidence was legally insufficient to sustain DeLay's convictions," the documents said. The judges said they "reverse the judgments of the trial court" and acquit DeLay, once one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress, of all charges.
The judges voted 2-1 on the ruling.
DeLay, now 66, left Congress voluntarily in 2006 as he was facing a tough re-election fight. He served as majority leader, the House's No. 2 job and top lieutenant to the speaker, from 2003 to 2005.
"I'm very happy about it," DeLay said on Capitol Hill, after eating lunch with the Texas congressional delegation. "This was an outrageous criminalization of politics and I'm so glad that they wrote the ruling that they did."
A Texas jury convicted DeLay in November 2010 for illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate money, via the Republican National Committee, to help elect GOP candidates to the Texas Legislature in 2002. The RNC then in turn sent checks to Texas House candidates.
State law prohibits corporations from giving directly to political candidates and their campaigns.
DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison on a conspiracy charge and five years for money laundering. He remained free while he was appealing his case.
DeLay has been in Washington for two days of meeting with evangelicals -- including Ken Wilde, founder of the National Prayer Center -- to discuss forming a new national prayer organization. The ex-lawmaker said he heard the news Thursday morning that his conviction had been overturned, when he was at a prayer group meeting.
"We were all basically on our knees praying and our lawyer calls and says, 'You're a free man,' " he said.
DeLay, who served in Congress from 1985 until his resignation, said he would "probably not" seek a return to elected office. "There's too much other things that the Lord wants me to do."
But he conceded some nostalgia at being inside the Capitol and visiting the chapel. "It just brought back a lot of great memories," DeLay said.