A Grand Prairie mother of four sentenced to eight years in prison for illegally voting had been offered a plea deal in August for two years’ probation but rejected it because it would have likely led to her deportation, according to court documents and her lawyer.
Instead, Rosa Maria Ortega’s attorney — who was not representing her in August — said he worked with the Texas attorney general’s office in recent weeks to arrange a dismissal of the case.
The deal, which would have helped ensure that Ortega remained in the country, would have included Ortega testifying before the Legislature about issues with the voting process, said her attorney, Clark Birdsall.
The attorney general’s office, which was jointly prosecuting the case with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, approved the dismissal deal, Birdsall said. But shortly before the case went to trial last week, he said, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson rejected it — a statement her office disputes.
Ortega, 37, a green card holder who came to the U.S. as an infant, was found guilty of illegally voting in Dallas County in the 2012 general election and the 2014 Republican primary runoff.
Sam Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Wilson’s office, said Monday that Wilson did not nix any deal that Ortega might have had in place with the attorney general’s office.
“We offered a plea deal to Ms. Ortega for probation [in August] and she rejected it,” Jordan said.
Birdsall said the case went to trial so that Wilson could show President Donald Trump she was tough on voter fraud.
“They’re apoplectic that I’m even talking about” a possible deal with attorney general’s office, Birdsall said of Wilson’s office.
Critics argue that Ortega’s punishment, which was handed down by the jury and drew national attention, was too harsh.
“Illegal voting should be sanctioned but not like a violent felony,” The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial that ran Monday.
Jordan said the sentence was up to the jury.
“Our prosecutors — one from the attorney general’s office and one from our office — made no punishment recommendation,” Jordan said. “We said, ‘Do what you think is right.’ We didn’t ask specifically for penitentiary time.”
Birdsall said he was still in shock Monday at how the case played out. He said he felt that the jury was motivated at least in part by Trump’s unproven claims that 3 million people illegally voted in 2016.
“I do think it’s the Trump effect,” Birdsall said, “and we are here in Trump country in Tarrant County.”
Birdsall told The Associated Press he wanted to steer the jury of 10 women and two men from any lingering thoughts about Trump’s claims but the judge wouldn’t allow him.
“It was the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the jury box,” Birdsall said. “I would have said, ‘You cannot hold this woman accountable for Donald Trump’s fictitious 3 million votes.’ ”
This report includes material from The Associated Press.