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San Diego jury acquits sidewalk graffiti protester of vandalism charges

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A protester charged with criminal vandalism for scrawling anti-bank slogans with washable chalk on San Diego city sidewalks was acquitted by a jury on Monday of all 13 counts against him.

Jeff Olson, 40, had faced a possible maximum penalty of 13 years behind bars had he been convicted in a trial denounced by Mayor Bob Filner as a waste of taxpayer money and an abuse of prosecutorial power.

The San Diego jury of two men and 10 women deliberated for less than five hours before returning the not guilty verdict.

"The jury sent a strong message that freedom of speech is alive in San Diego," Olson told reporters outside the courtroom following the verdict.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Paul Thomasch)