Kenardo Curry walked out of Criminal Court on Wednesday with tears of joy in his eyes.
Surrounded by family and friends, Curry said, "Seven years. It's been seven years."
In a trial that lasted less than two days and after deliberating for about an hour, a jury found Curry not guilty on charges of official misconduct and theft in his former job as Chattanooga Neighborhood Services director.
Sixteen theft counts and one charge of fraudulent use of a credit card remain on the books for Curry, but prosecutor Bret Alexander told Judge Rebecca Stern his best proof was on the charges of which Curry was just acquitted.
Stern schedued a March 20 hearing on whether Alexander will ask that the remaining charges be dismissed.
Prosecutors alleged Curry used city money to pay for studies and reports on a Dallas Street property that he intended to buy with a partner and either develop or sell it for personal profit.
The property, once a nearly vacant lot, has since been converted to a subdivision with homes valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Curry has maintained his innocence since he was fired and indicted in 2006. Charges were dismissed against four other city employees in the investigation, three after they completed judicial diversion.
Prosecutors dismissed charges against Jennifer Centers in 2011 after Chattanooga police accidentally destroyed evidence seized at her home.
Curry's attorney, Dan Ripper, told the jury from the start of the trial that Curry was targeted for investigation because of past scorn from Mayor Ron Littlefield.
Ripper said city auditor Stan Sewell acted like a "cowboy" in how he investigated a 2005 audit that revealed inappropriate spending.
The 2005 audit showed that Curry used $25,000 of city money on four pairs of earrings, electric recording equipment, digital cameras, a DVD player, a television, two airplane tickets and work on painting, heating and air conditioning systems at the Church of God of Prophecy, according to newspaper archives.
Those details were not part of the two charges in this week's trial and were not shown to the jury.
"There won't be a question in your mind, not a one, that they were going to get Mr. Curry one way or another," Ripper told the jury Tuesday, the first day of the trial.
Sewell testified for much of Tuesday. He disputed Ripper's claims that he was involved with deciding who would be charged or how.
But jurors heard an hour and a half's worth of recorded interviews that Sewell conducted with Neighborhood Services employees asking about Curry.
Ripper said that showed Sewell was looking for information on the department head from the outset.
"I can't fathom how (the jury) could have gotten a not-guilty verdict without that having an effect," Ripper said.
Jurors declined to comment after the verdict.
Curry deferred comment to Ripper, who said he and his client were "extremely gratified" with the jury's decision and that the charges have had a "devastating effect" on Curry's life.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...