Anthony Naar, 29, of Delaware, was found guilty Tuesday of involuntary manslaughter and involuntary battery after a third trial. He was acquitted of the most serious charge, murder.
Naum told the jury during his defense that his team plane crashed after a system that makes the plane move the parachute fastened onto the right wing released prematurely.
Prosecutors told the jury that Naum relied on instructions from a second person on the plane that didn’t materialize, that Naum didn’t plan for such a catastrophic collision, and that Naum left behind a message for his wife and a flight instructor that failed to mention the crash.
The jury deliberated for more than three hours before convicting Naum. The verdict sets up Naum’s sentencing hearing, which could occur later this month. The court can sentence him to as little as a year in prison, or as much as two years. If he gets the maximum, he will serve five years.
The trial marked the end of a long-running criminal saga in which Naum reached out to Sala on Facebook in the weeks before the doomed flight. Sala, a striker for the British soccer team Cardiff City, was on his way home from Argentina, where he had played in a match. The plane went down Feb. 21, 2018, during takeoff from a remote island in the English Channel. Two people survived. The bodies of the pilot and Sala were never recovered.
Prosecutors argued that Naum told his passengers – footballers Emiliano Sala and Moises Henao – to hold on and nose dive before the plane crashed.
During the trial, Naum described “a dark night of the soul” when Sala’s plane crashed into the water while they were on the move to the Isles of Scilly, a British archipelago near the south of England.
“Moises Henao and Emiliano Sala, moments before the event, communicated in code that there was a problem and they would need to try to evacuate from the plane,” Naum said in his opening statement last week. “When I talked to Moises, Emiliano called. Emiliano said he needed to find and contact me.”
“Moises and Emiliano are gone. There is no coming back from that,” Naum said. “Emiliano Sala won’t come back. It is a bloody sad day. It is a tragedy.”
Sala’s parents and other family members were present in court for Naum’s opening statement and for the second and third phases of the trial. His father, Mario, handed the microphone to the prosecution during the closing arguments.
If he gets the maximum, Naum will serve five years. If he is sentenced to more, he will serve the full year in prison.