By Karen Brooks
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas appeals court on Thursday overturned the 2010 convictions of former House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay for money laundering and conspiracy, citing insufficient evidence.
Dubbed "the Hammer" for his hard-driving, partisan style, DeLay had been accused of conspiring to illegally funnel $190,000 in corporate campaign donations to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature in the 2002 elections.
A three-justice panel from the Third District Court of Appeals in Austin threw out the 2010 conviction of DeLay and rendered judgments of acquittal in a 2-to-1 ruling.
"We conclude that the evidence presented does not support a conclusion that DeLay committed the crimes that were charged," Justice Melissa Goodwin wrote for the court.
The Travis County District Attorney's office said it disagreed with the ruling and would ask for a review by the full Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
DeLay was sentenced in January 2011 to three years in prison but has been free pending appeal.
"It's a really happy day for me and I just thank the Lord for carrying me through all of this," DeLay told reporters on Capitol Hill. The former Republican leader had been asked by the National Prayer Center to come to Washington to help put together a nationwide prayer operation.
DeLay said he was praying when he got the news. "We were all basically on our knees praying and my lawyer calls and says, 'You're a free man,'" he said.
DeLay was elected to the U.S. House in 1984 and rose eventually to the No. 2 position behind the speaker. He was part of the 1994 "Republican Revolution" that seized control of the House from the Democrats for the first time in 40 years.
He resigned from the House in 2006 after it became public that he had ties to Jack Abramoff, a former Republican lobbyist snared in a federal investigation of influence peddling in Washington. Two of DeLay's former aides pleaded guilty to corruption. DeLay denied any wrongdoing. DeLay told reporters he has spent more than $12 million fighting the charges.
(Reporting by Terry Wade, Mary Wisniewski, Karen Brooks and Rachelle Younglai; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Greg McCune, Leslie Adler, Leslie Gevirtz and Cynthia Osterman)