AUSTIN, Texas — Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who with the nickname "the Hammer" took part in his share of political battles during his time in Congress, now faces the toughest fight of his life: staying out of prison.
The former Houston-area congressman will be back in court on Monday for the sentencing phase of his trial after his Nov. 24 conviction on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002.
Unlike DeLay's trial, which lasted nearly a month, the sentencing hearing is expected to take about two days.
DeLay has chosen Senior Judge Pat Priest to sentence him. Priest says he is likely to make a quick decision after both prosecutors and defense attorneys finish presenting witnesses.
While he faces up to life in prison on the money laundering charge and up to 20 years on the conspiracy charge, DeLay is also eligible for probation.
"Of course we will ask the judge to grant probation," said Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lead attorney. "This is not a matter of economic loss, not a matter of anyone being injured or of any evil intent."
Up to nine witnesses are expected to testify on DeLay's behalf, including former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and others who worked with him.
"We are going to show the good things about Tom DeLay," DeGuerin said.
DeLay's lawyers also submitted more than 30 character and support letters from friends and political leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and eight current U.S. congressmen. Most of the letters ask for leniency in the sentencing.
Steve Brand, one of the prosecutors, said they planned on calling several witnesses. He declined to comment on what the witnesses would testify about or what sentence the Travis County District Attorney's Office planned to request.
Some legal experts believe DeLay will likely receive little, if any, prison time.
"Diehard Democrats will want to see the book thrown at him and his conservative supporters will feel (any) sentence will be unjust," said Bradley Simon, a New York criminal defense attorney who's followed the case. "No matter what the judge says, he is unlikely to please anybody."
DeLay was once one of the most powerful men in U.S. politics, holding the No. 2 job in the House of Representatives.
But a jury determined DeLay conspired with two associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, to use his Texas-based PAC to send $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee. The RNC then sent the same amount to seven Texas House candidates. Under Texas law, corporate money can't go directly to political campaigns.
Prosecutors claim the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House. That enabled the GOP majority to push through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 — and strengthened DeLay's political power.
DeLay contended the charges were politically motivated and the money swap in question was legal. DeGuerin says DeLay committed no crime and believes the convictions will be overturned on appeal.
The 2005 criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal investigation of DeLay's ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ended his 22-year political career. The Abramoff-related probe ended without any charges filed against DeLay.
Ellis and Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried later.
Except for a 2009 appearance on ABC's hit television show "Dancing With the Stars," DeLay has been mostly out of the spotlight since resigning from Congress in 2006.