Country singer Tim McGraw was found innocent yesterday (May 23) of charges he assaulted a sheriff's deputy during a scuffle over a police horse. The Orchard Park, N.Y., jury also found fellow singer K

Country singer Tim McGraw was found innocent yesterday (May 23) of charges he assaulted a sheriff's deputy during a scuffle over a police horse. The Orchard Park, N.Y., jury also found fellow singer Kenny Chesney and McGraw road manager Mark Russo innocent for their roles in the ruckus last year at a music festival near Buffalo.

McGraw and Chesney hugged each other as the verdict was read, and McGraw's wife, country star Faith Hill, wiped away tears in the front row. "We've been waiting eleven months to have our day in court," a tired-looking McGraw said outside of court. "The justice system works. We have nothing against the people of Buffalo. We'll be back."

The jury took two hours to reach its verdicts. Spectators who packed the court room applauded after the jury left. McGraw, Hill, and Chesney lingered outside court to sign autographs for more than 100 fans.

McGraw and Chesney were arrested last June 3 after police tried to pull Chesney from a police horse he was riding backstage at the George Strait Country Music Festival. McGraw was accused of attacking deputies as they rushed to Chesney. Russo, 45, was accused of joining in.

McGraw -- whose latest Curb album, "Set This Circus Down," is on top of Billboard's Top Country Albums chart for the fourth straight week -- and Russo were tried on misdemeanor counts that could have carried jail terms of up to a year. Chesney -- whose "Greatest Hits" (BNA) is at No. 7 on the country chart -- was charged with a lesser disorderly conduct violation.

McGraw testified that deputies surrounded Chesney after he rode the horse into an area of Ralph Wilson Stadium reserved for performers. Chesney said he was never given a chance to explain that he had permission to ride the horse, which he called "an innocent, fun gesture."

In closing arguments earlier yesterday, defense attorney Thomas Eoannou called his client's trial a "joke." With Sheriff Patrick Gallivan sitting in the first row, the lawyer said "the sheriff of all of Erie County had put aside the county's business to assassinate Tim McGraw" and protect his own reputation.

Prosecutor Louis Haremski said it was McGraw's ego that had brought on the trouble. He said the singer felt empowered by his fame to step in and interfere with deputies trying pull down Chesney. With the case behind them, McGraw and Chesney can look forward to a summer tour that will kick off June 20 in Albuquerque, N.M.


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