A lawyer has said Donald Trump’s debunked claims of election rigging influenced the outcome of his client’s voter fraud trial, calling the US president’s comments “the 800lb gorilla” in the jury box. Rosa María Ortega, 37, a Mexican national, was jailed for eight years in Fort Worth, Texas, after being convicted of two felony counts of illegal voting over allegations that she improperly cast a ballot five times between 2005 and 2014. Her attorney, Clark Birdsall, said on Friday that Ortega was a permanent resident who was brought to the US as a baby and mistakenly thought she was eligible to vote. He said she voted Republican, including for the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, whose office helped prosecute her. Her sentence was tough: voter fraud convictions, which are rare, often result in probation. As a convicted felon, Ortega is likely to be deported after serving her sentence. Tarrant County prosecutors said jurors made clear they valued voting rights, but Birdsall said he believed Ortega would have fared better in a county with fewer “pro-Trump” attitudes.
Trump carried north Texas’s Tarrant County with 52% of the vote in November. Birdsall said he wanted to steer the jury of 10 women and two men from any lingering thoughts about Trump’s unproven claims that 3 million people illegally voted in 2016 – but the judge wouldn’t allow him. “It was the 800lb gorilla sitting in the jury box,” Birdsall said. “I would have said, ‘You cannot hold this woman accountable for Donald Trump’s fictitious 3 million votes.’”
Birdsall said the Texas attorney general’s office had agreed to leniency in exchange for Ortega testifying to lawmakers about illegal voting, but said the Tarrant County district attorney, Sharon Wilson, quashed those talks.
A spokeswoman for Wilson acknowledged plea negotiations but would not divulge details. A spokesman for the attorney general did not respond to an email seeking comment.