updated 10/31/2007 7:19:04 PM ET 2007-10-31T23:19:04

A former federal prosecutor was acquitted Wednesday of withholding evidence from the defense during the nation’s first major terrorism trial after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The government said Richard Convertino wanted so badly to win convictions in the case that he broke the law. But Convertino’s lawyers insisted he did nothing wrong and had no reason to hide evidence against four North African men accused of operating a “sleeper” terrorist cell.

“It’s a just end to a politically motivated prosecution,” Convertino said after the verdict was read.

The jury reached its decision after less than a day of deliberations. It also acquitted Harry Smith III, a former State Department investigator.

Convertino, 46, was accused of withholding photos of a Jordanian hospital from defense attorneys. Prosecutors alleged the photographs could have helped the defense at the 2003 trial undermine a government argument about how well a surveillance sketch of the hospital matched reality. The sketch was found in an apartment used by part of the suspected Detroit cell.

Prosecutors said Convertino also allowed Smith to testify that it would be difficult to get photos of the hospital, even though Convertino had such photos, and Smith knew the photos existed.

Government lawyer Daniel Schwager said prosecutors “believe in the case and the importance to the system and respect the jury’s verdict.”

Defense: No conspiracy existed
The defense said the government didn’t prove that Convertino intentionally withheld the photos and insisted no conspiracy existed.

For two years, Convertino led the government’s case. Two of the four African men, Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, were convicted in 2003 of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and Convertino won praise from the Bush administration for his successful convictions.

Smith helped in the investigation and testified for the government at the trial.

His lawyer, Thomas Cranmer, said Smith was relieved by the verdict.

“Overall, the prosecution’s case — at least to me — didn’t make sense, and I was hopeful the jury would see that,” Cranmer said.

A federal judge overturned the 2003 verdicts against the African men at the Justice Department’s request after prosecutors discovered that some documents that could have aided the defense during the trial were not turned over by the government as required.

Convertino was indicted last year on allegations that he conspired to obstruct justice and lied to a federal judge in connection with case.

Jurors heard nearly three weeks of testimony before U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow.

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