Sheriff Peterson acquitted of federal charges - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Sheriff Peterson acquitted of federal charges

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By Alicia Eakin - bio | email

September 11, 2008

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - A South Georgia Sheriff is acquitted of three federal charges.

A jury found Clinch County Sheriff Winston Peterson not guilty Thursday morning of perjury and two counts obstruction of justice.

The charges are part of a federal probe into corruption in the Alapaha Judicial Circuit and the former Superior Court Judge Brooks Blitch.

Peterson was accused of tipping of Blitch to the identity of an Federal Bureau of Investigation informant.

The outcome was an emotional moment for Peterson, who's been battling these charges since last year. 

"When the jury read their gracious verdict, he was in tears. The strain on him was unbelievable," says Brent Savage, an attorney for Peterson.

The verdict was read after two days of testimony from District Attorney Cathy Helms, an FBI agent, a Clinch County Deputy and numerous character witnesses.

The U. S. Attorney's office believes justice wasn't served. Prosecutors told us they are disappointed with the verdict because they believe the evidence for a conviction was there.

But defense attorneys are pleased with the outcome. "Thank goodness it's over. You can't believe what the stress is on a man or woman who's under federal indictment."

And they say it may not be over. "I'm not sure if he can seek money back. It's a very expensive process to unfortunately have Mr. Zipperer and I. But I'm just elated at what happened for him," said Savage.

But while they continue the fight, their client can finally return to a normal life.

Peterson has been sheriff for nearly 20-years and is running for re-election against Republican Ferrell Howell and Independent Eddie Griffis.

His brother... deputy Raymond Peterson was originally in the race... but submitted a letter of withdrawal to the election board in Clinch County.