Mark A. Belnick (search), former top lawyer for Tyco International (TYC), was acquitted Thursday of selling his silence while two other Tyco executives stole $600 million.

The Manhattan state Supreme Court jury returned the verdict in its fifth day of deliberations, while prosecution and defense lawyers had been discussing a possible plea deal.

He was tried on charges of first-degree grand larceny, securities fraud and falsifying business records. Belnick had faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the top coun awarded by chief executive L. Dennis Kozlowski (search) -- but not approved by Tyco's board of directors -- for guiding Tyco unscathed through a Securities and Exchange Commission (search) probe of the company's accounting practices.

Belnick testified that Kozlowski told him during the meeting at which he was hired -- their second -- that he had the authority to set his compensation. Based on that statement, Belnick said, he believed Kozlowski was authorized to grant him the bonus.

Prosecutors said the bonus was not for legal work but for hiding Kozlowski's alleged massive thefts during the SEC inquiry. As Tyco's top legal officer, they said, Belnick knew that only the board's compensation committee could approve the bonus.

Justice Michael Obus had instructed the jurors that, when deliberating the grand larceny charge, they could consider whether Belnick had a good faith, reasonable belief that he had a right to accept the bonus offered by Kozlowski.