Norm Ellenberger, flamboyant former basketball coach at the University of New Mexico, was found innocent today of federal charges relating to a grade-transcript scandal, but he tempered his enthusiasm by noting he faces another trial.
"Needless to say, I'm very happy," said the 47-year-old Ellenberger, known as "Stormin' Norman" during his successful seven-year head coaching tenure. "But we're only halfway there. It's a two-fold situation."
Ellenberger referred to a state trial scheduled to begin in Albuquerque next month.
A federal jury deliberated about 2 hours 45 minutes before acquitting Ellenberger on all seven counts.
When the clerk finished announcing the verdict of the six-man, six-woman jury, courtroom spectators clapped and cheered. Ellenberger shook hands with nearly everyone in the courtroom.
"I thought witch hunts went out with the Dark Ages. Maybe we got into one here," he said.
The verdict came after four days of testimony in the trial, which concluded this morning.
Ellenberger's attorney, Leon Taylor, said, "The verdict speaks more eloquently than I could ever speak." Taylor said the state trial won't "be any tougher than this one."
Ellenberger, smiling broadly in the lobby of the courthouse, said he had two things going for him -- "One was I was not guilty to begin with, the second was I had a great lawyer. That's hard to beat."
In closing arguments, Taylor blamed the state's key witness for initiating the rigged academic transcripts that resulted in federal mail fraud charges against the coach.
He depicted former UNM assistant Manny Goldstein, a key state witness, as a "sort of pitiful character" who delivered Ellenberger's "head on a platter" in order to save himself.
Taylor said the university administration should have been on trial instead of his client, but prosecutors termed that argument an "outlandish accusation that everyone at the university is a crook."
The grand jury indictments stemmed from alleged rigging of academic transcripts for two athletes -- Andre Logan, who played one season, and Craig Gilbert, the athletic scandal's first victim last November.