UPDATED: Los Angeles Clippers color commentator Mike Smith was acquitted today on charges he stole $735,000 from a dead guy. (New information throughout) . . .
Mike Smith, who sits next to longtime play-by-play man Ralph Lawler during those Clippers broadcasts no one watches, has been in a Santa Ana courtroom answering to charges of grand theft in a Dana Point real estate deal gone bad. But the victim died on Oct. 5.
To get around the legal equivalent of a giant center clogging the key, prosecutors played up to four hours of pre-recorded testimony from Bill Steinriede, who died of complications from an inoperable brain tumor.
Smith was accused of repeatedly soliciting his elderly friend Steinriede, a retired school teacher, to put up his Dana Point home as collateral for a loan Smith and his business partner, Bruce Howard Furst, would use to develop Dana Point property.
Judge Richard Beacon previously tossed the charges against Furst. And today, after two hours of deliberations, a jury acquitted Smith.
If convicted, Smith could have got up to five years in state prison, which is worse than having to watch a season of Clippers, albeit just barely.
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"I'm relieved, obviously, but mostly I'm just grateful to the judge and jury who saw to it (that) the truth came out," Smith tells the Orange County Register. "This was a very difficult thing to go through for me and my family."
Smith's attorneys blamed the case not on a premeditated crime but the housing market collapsing and their client and Furst being unable to come up with the cash to repay Steinriede. Smith never intended to rip off his friend, they maintained.
The matter belonged in civil court, Smith's attorneys said, but their client did not blame prosecutors for pressing the criminal case against him. And he said he still feels badly about what his deceased friend went through.
"I've cried many tears for him," Smith reportedly said. "He was my best friend."