"I'm going to be more strict on myself and trust my family more," the Pro Bowl receiver said as dozens of friends and family members clustered behind him.
Jurors deliberated almost 17 hours over three days before finding Martin innocent on four counts of laundering drug money on behalf of longtime friend Rickey Brownlee and one count of conspiracy to hide drug proceeds.
Martin, 33, could have faced three to five years in prison if convicted, effectively ending his NFL career.
"It was all or nothing, and my whole career was flashing before me as I sat there," Martin said. "This is a lot of weight off my shoulders."
Brownlee was found guilty on all five money laundering charges and one count each of possessing heroin or cocaine with the intent to distribute and conspiracy to possess and distribute.
With two prior drug convictions on his record, he faces life in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 9.
Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment after court was adjourned. Jurors also refused interview requests.
Thursday's result leaves Martin free to join the Dolphins, who signed him to a four-year, $14.2 million contract in April. He promised to be at practice Friday.
"I'm going to get ready for practice now," he said. "Coach might make me run extra laps, but that's OK. I'm ready for it."
Coach Jimmy Johnson and several Dolphins players sat through opening arguments to show their support for Martin, and quarterback Dan Marino took the stand as a character witness.
Some criticized the moves as a power play, but Martin was grateful for the turnout.
"I don't think that was inappropriate," he said. "The guys have always been there for me. I'm happy they supported me. Dan Marino has known me 10 or 11 years. He knows the person I am."
Besides the criminal charges, the trial also put Martin's dismal financial history on display. Despite making some $9.1 million over his nine-year NFL career, the Miami native managed to spend nearly $11 million.
Martin filed for bankruptcy in March, owing creditors more than $1.8 million. With the acquittal, he can start collecting the remaining $3.15 million of his $3.3 million signing bonus from the Dolphins.
|Tony Martin could have faced three to five years in prison if convicted of money laundering. (AP)|
"My daddy always told me to find the positive in things," said Hal Martin, Tony's father, who sat directly behind his son throughout the 3½-week trial. "If somebody can learn from this, that's good."
The receiver sat expressionless, almost in a daze as the verdicts were read, bowing his head when the final "not guilty" was heard. Lead attorney Howard Srebnick hugged the receiver and started to cry. Hal Martin shouted, "Praise God."
Afterward, Martin celebrated privately in a side room with his lawyers and family members. When he emerged to leave, he still wore a smile of amazement mixed with joy.
"I didn't have any doubts, but anytime you get in that situation when you have 12 people judging you, you get queasy a little bit," he said. "I never had any doubt. I just had butterflies."
Most of the government's case centered on Brownlee, who served seven years in prison for a pair of 1980s drug convictions and was known on the streets as the "Mayor of Opa-locka" for his Robin Hood image.
Prosecutors alleged Martin leased three cars in his name on behalf of Brownlee, who paid him back with cash. Martin also was accused of taking $100,000 in cash to reimburse a check written to Brownlee's first lawyer.
Srebnick painted a scenario in which Martin, who has known Brownlee since childhood and calls him his uncle, simply was trying to help a friend who provided love and support when the receiver was growing up in Miami's inner city.
"It was two separate cases," Srebnick said afterward. "It was a completely different case for Mr. Brownlee compared to Mr. Martin. The evidence against Mr. Martin was completely different."
As he walked to his car, Martin said he truly believed that Brownlee had put his drug past behind him when he opened a pair of restaurants in Opa-locka.
"I knew he was (a drug dealer) in the past," the receiver said. "But I thought he'd cleaned his life up. I thought that was clean money."
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