Jurors who acquitted impeached Gov. Evan Mecham of illegally hiding a $350,000 campaign loan say they believed his explanation that he and his campaign treasurer-brother were guilty only of making an innocent mistake.

"The key word was `knowing' or `knowingly,' " a juror who asked not to be named said in an interview after the panel of six men and two women returned verdicts Thursday in favor of Mecham and his brother, Willard.The acquittal ended 18 months of turmoil in which Mecham, a conservative Republican who won the governorship in 1986 on his fifth try, simultaneously faced recall, impeachment and criminal trial.

Mecham, 64, his face flushed and appearing near tears, turned and kissed his wife after the court clerk read the verdicts of innocent on all six counts of fraud, perjury and willful concealment for which he could have been sent to prison for nearly 22 years.

Mecham was removed from office April 4 when the state Senate convicted him of two unrelated offenses in an impeachment trial.

"I have said since October 1987 that there was no law broken," said Mecham, a wealthy car dealer who campaigned on a platform of honesty and integrity in government.

"They thought the same as I did," he said of the jurors, who deliberated 6 1/2 hours over two days.

Prosecutors claimed the Mechams concealed the $350,000 loan, made to the 1986 campaign by Tempe, Ariz., developer Barry Wolfson, by lumping it with other money on state-required financial-disclosure forms.

Prosecutors said the brothers knowingly tried to hide the loan so Mecham would not have any obvious connections to Wolfson to protect the candidate's image of not being beholden to special interests.

Defense attorneys said the charges were part of a political vendetta against Mecham by Attorney General Bob Corbin.

Asked whether he expects Mecham to seek political office again, Corbin said, "I wouldn't be surprised at anything this man does."

Neither Mecham testified during the trial. The defense maintained that Willard Mecham simply made an honest mistake in filling out complicated campaign financing forms that required each contribution be itemized.

Juror Anthony Christie said he agreed with the defense and there was "no quibbling" among the jurors. They took only one vote on each of the six counts against Evan Mecham and the three against Willard Mecham, 67, who faced 9 1/2 years in prison, he said.

Another juror said, "We didn't base anything on sympathy."

Corbin called the verdict "an indication that the public doesn't take public disclosure laws seriously."

Evan Mecham has said Corbin was "out to hang him" and wanted to be governor himself. Corbin denied any conspiracy to get Mecham out of office.

Mecham's supporters are conducting a recall drive against Corbin, claiming he singled out the governor for prosecution when several other state officials were permitted to file amended campaign financial forms without penalty.

Thursday's verdict frees Mecham, a member of Arizona's delegation to the Republican presidential convention in August, to seek public office, which he could not have done as a convicted felon. The Arizona Senate, in convicting Mecham of obstructing justice and misuse of public funds, refused to exercise its option of barring him from ever running again.