PIERRE, S.D. – A South Dakota jury on Wednesday convicted former U.S. Senate candidate Annette Bosworth of election law violations.
The 43-year-old Sioux Falls physician had been charged with six counts each of perjury and filing false documents stemming from the mishandling of her candidate petitions. Jurors convicted her on all of those counts after deliberating for more than 3 hours.
An attorney for Bosworth declined to comment.
"Not tonight," Bosworth said softly as she got into a vehicle when a reporter asked if she'd like to say anything.
Bosworth said during the trial that she never intended to mislead anyone when she attested to signatures on campaign documents that she didn't actually witness. She was out of the country on a medical mission trip at the time. Bosworth also has admitted that she didn't personally gather some signatures, despite attesting on documents that she had witnessed people signing petitions.
Under state law, the person circulating petitions must witness the signings from registered voters.
Although Bosworth argued that the prosecution was politically motivated, her defense largely relied on her argument that she received bad advice from her attorney and political consultant during the 2014 campaign, Joel Arends. Bosworth's trial lawyer portrayed her as a neophyte candidate who knew much more about medicine than about the political process.
Arends denied the allegation, testifying that Bosworth "absolutely and definitely" knew the proper way to fill out a nominating petition. He called it "a lie" that he had advised her she didn't need to witness signatures.
"This verdict is very significant in that the jury sends the message that our electoral process is very sacred and the integrity of the process has to be protected," Deputy Attorney General Robert Mayer told reporters after the verdict.
Testifying in her own defense earlier in the trial, Bosworth said her actions were "careless."
"I was doing everything possible to get it right," Bosworth testified last week. "I felt like I did a very good job trying. Clearly, I'm sitting here because we screwed up."
Bosworth's attorneys said she thought she could properly call herself the petitions' "circulator" because they were circulated under her direction.
Her medical license could be jeopardized. She faces a maximum punishment of 24 years in prison and $48,000 in fines.
Attorney General Marty Jackley said prosecutors will review mitigating and aggravating circumstances before making a sentencing recommendation.
"Under South Dakota law, non-violent felonies such as these carry a presumption of no or limited actual jail time," Jackley told The Associated Press. "The presumption may be overcome by the defendant's conduct."
Jackley said one mitigating factor would be if Bosworth accepted responsibility.
Bosworth was a political newcomer in the race for the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat, and she said her lack of political experience resonated with South Dakota voters who were frustrated with career politicians. She sharply criticized the federal health care overhaul and pledged not to raise taxes.
But she drew only about 6 percent of the vote in a five-way Republican primary. Her trial attorney, Dana Hanna, said publicity about the petitions hurt Bosworth. Former Gov. Mike Rounds won the primary and went on to win the seat.
Another candidate in the Senate field, independent Clayton Walker, faces nine felony charges for submitting nominating petitions that investigators allege included names of dead people, fictitious people and Hollywood celebrities.
The Bosworth and Walker cases spurred the South Dakota Legislature this year to change election law to give the secretary of state power to audit a random sample of the signatures on petitions from statewide candidates. Before, it could only be done on petitions for ballot measures.