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Two pilots found guilty of operating plane intoxicated

By Emanuella Grinberg
Court TV

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MIAMI, Florida (Court TV) -- A Florida jury has found former America West pilots Thomas Cloyd and Christopher Hughes guilty of operating a plane while intoxicated even though the plane was never airborne.

The panel of six men arrived at their decision after about six hours of deliberations, which began Tuesday afternoon in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

As the verdicts were read, the two men bowed their heads, and later stood and tightly embraced their wives. Cloyd's wife, Debbie, who is the daughter of country singer Glen Campbell, cried and spoke softly to her husband.

The pilots were fingerprinted and handcuffed before being led from the courtroom. They face up to five years in prison when Judge David Young sentences them July 20. Before the trial, the men had offered to plead guilty in exchange for 14 months in prison, but Young rejected the deal.

Jurors declined to comment following the verdict, although one man simply said that the panel had followed the law.

Prosecutors called 18 witnesses in the seven-day trial to show that the defendants reported to work after an all-night bender that ended less than five hours before they were due in the cockpit.

Jurors had the option of deciding the pilots either acted recklessly or were under the influence of alcohol when they boarded flight 556 in preparation for takeoff on July 1, 2002.

Defense lawyers argued that the men were never in control of the plane, which was attached to a tug vehicle before police halted the flight on suspicions that the pilots were intoxicated.

Authorities were put on alert after security guards said they detected the smell of alcohol on Hughes as he passed through a security checkpoint at Miami International Airport.

In her closing argument, Assistant State Attorney Deisy Rodriguez reminded jurors of an altercation Cloyd had at the same checkpoint that also aroused suspicions.

An airport employee testified that Cloyd allegedly barked, "That s--- doesn't apply to me" when told of a security directive forbidding coffee through the checkpoint.

"Today, it's up to you to tell them that s--- does apply to them," she said.

Defense attorneys also disputed their clients' level of impairment in light of witness testimony that the two men appeared lucid and in control of their faculties, in spite of a $122 bar tab and projected blood-alcohol levels of .135 at the time they entered the cockpit.

Florida's legal limit is .08.

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