NEW YORK, JULY 2 -- Imelda Marcos, who frequently wept during three months of testimony about her voracious shopping habits as First Lady of the Philippines, was acquitted today of charges that she stole more than $200 million from her homeland and used the money to buy jewelry, artwork and four Manhattan skyscrapers.
A U.S. District Court jury gave Marcos reason to celebrate on her 61st birthday by ending the fraud and racketeering trial within four full days of deliberation. Marcos cried as the not-guilty verdicts were read, nodding to the jury while dozens of supporters erupted with cheers and hugs. Backers of Philippine President Corazon Aquino sat across the aisle in stunned silence.
"I thank the almighty God for the vindication, and I am in great awe and respect for the jury system that symbolizes the soul of the American people," a numb-looking Marcos said as she hugged her son, Bong Bong, and daughter, Irene.
After making her way through the crush on the courthouse steps, where one Filipino supporter sang "God Bless America," Marcos, dressed in widow's black, was driven to St. Patrick's Cathedral. She crawled on her knees to the altar, clutching rosary beads, and bowed her head to the floor.
Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi, 54, was acquitted of charges that he aided Marcos's scheme and obstructed justice in the case. Trailed by photographers, Khashoggi descended into the Chambers Street subway station for the $1.15 ride uptown.
"I am innocent, and the system proved it," he said. "I wasn't nervous. I was predicting it in my heart."
Jury forewoman Catherine Balton, a retired office manager, said in a brief telephone interview that "the case was poorly prepared by the government and there was no proof. We just weren't convinced there was sufficient proof."
Juror Thomas O'Rourke, a Transit Authority mason, told the Associated Press that "the government did a terrible, terrible job" and the jury's first vote was 10 to 2 for acquittal. "It was a totally silly case," he said. "We are not big brothers to the people overseas. . . . For three years, they have made this poor woman's life miserable."
Later, in his Fifth Avenue penthouse duplex, Khashoggi, who was one of the world's richest men before his investment company went bankrupt and is believed to be worth about $50 million, said his defense cost $6.5 million.
Khashoggi, who helped to broker the 1986 U.S.-Iran arms deal, said he planned to fly to Mecca to pray. Recalling the ordeal of being arrested and jailed in Switzerland last year pending extradition, he said: "I thought I was in an American movie, and I was the star."
The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan issued a brief statement saying it respected the jury's decision. Prosecutors had planned to try former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos with his wife, but his death in Hawaiian exile last Sept. 28 created the additional burden of proving that Imelda Marcos was aware of his financial affairs.
Marcos's lead attorney, Gerry Spence, whose rambling arguments during the trial drew frequent criticism, said he "always felt the jury could not convict on this evidence. The evidence obviously didn't exist."
Another Marcos lawyer, Benjamin Cassiday, said the defense had gambled by not calling witnesses.
"The real issue in the trial is whether there was any indication Mrs. Marcos knew the funds she used were illicitly obtained," he said. "There was not one iota of evidence on that point." The indictment, he said, "was brought for political reasons. The Aquino government felt it would be helpful to totally destroy the Marcos name."
Marcos said she had a "commitment and responsibility" to return to the Philippines to bury her husband, who fled with her to Hawaii after the 1986 revolt that brought Aquino to power. But Aquino said in a statement in Manila that Marcos would remain barred as a national security risk.
"I am sorry to hear that the courageous efforts made by the American prosecution . . . have not succeeded," Aquino said. She said Marcos, who has never been charged in the Philippines, would be brought to trial "at the appropriate time."
Aquino spokeswoman Carmen Pedrosa said the New York trial established that the Marcoses looted $700 million from their homeland, which the Philippines is pursuing in civil suits.
Marcos, who became First Lady in 1965, was accused of using stolen funds to support a glittering lifestyle symbolized by her 1,000 pairs of shoes. One prosecutor said she used the Philippine national bank as "her own personal piggy bank."
But the jury often appeared bewildered as many of the 95 witnesses described the complicated flow of Philippine pesos through shell corporations and offshore banks.
There were plenty of titillating details. According to notebook entries introduced as evidence, Marcos spent $7,842 on scarves and chocolates in a single day and once made a $1 million down payment on a Michelangelo painting. Van Cleef & Arpels, the Fifth Avenue jeweler, often delivered sapphire and diamond necklaces to her Waldorf-Astoria Hotel suite.
Customs agents said Marcos arrived in Hawaii carrying suitcases stuffed with jewelry, stock certificates and 24 bricks of gold.
Spence, a Wyoming lawyer with an ever-present cowboy hat, never detailed his opening-day charge that then-Vice President Bush and the Central Intelligence Agency knew as early as 1981 that the Marcoses were moving millions of dollars into secret bank accounts as a hedge against a communist takeover.
Spence repeatedly clashed with Judge John F. Keenan, telling him at one point, "You do everything possible to subvert my purpose." Spence maintained that Ferdinand Marcos was independently wealthy but acknowledged he had hidden interests in many Philippine companies.
After the prosecution rested, Keenan asked, "What am I doing here at 40 Foley Square trying a case involving the theft of money from Philippine banks?"
The trial closed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles LaBella stacking packs of Philippine pesos on the jury box rail to dramatize his claim that Imelda Marcos, as governor of metropolitan Manila and a high-ranking Cabinet officer, knew what her husband was doing. "She knew! She knew! She had to know!" he shouted.
But Spence replied that Marcos "has committed no crime except the crime of loving a man for 35 years."
Special correspondent Laurie Goodstein contributed to this report.
Feb. 25, 1986: President Ferdinand Marcos, ousted in a revolution, flees the Philippines with his wife, Imelda, and flies to Hawaii.
July 9, 1987: The U.S. government orders Marcos to remain in Hawaii after secret tape recordings disclose that he tried to buy $25 million in weapons for a coup against new Philippine leader Corazon Aquino.
Oct. 21, 1988: The Marcoses are indicted on racketeering charges, accused of having plundered their homeland of millions of dollars and defrauded U.S. banks.
Oct. 31, 1988: Imelda Marcos pleads not guilty at arraignment in New York and is freed on $5 million bond. Defense attorneys say Ferdinand Marcos is too ill to travel to arraignment.
Jan. 15, 1989: Ferdinand Marcos is hospitalized with heart, kidney and respiratory ailments, his third hospitalization within two months. Doctors say he is unlikely to recover.
March 10, 1989: A grand jury charges the Marcoses with illegally funneling an additional $77 million into United States.
Sept. 28, 1989: Ferdinand Marcos, afflicted with massive organ failure and serious infection, dies at age 72.
March 20, 1990: Jury selection begins in the trial of Imelda Marcos on charges of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud and obstruction of justice. Codefendant Adnan Khashoggi, Saudi financier, is charged with mail fraud and obstruction of justice.
Yesterday: Marcos and Khashoggi are acquitted.