An ex-Orange Unified School District trustee was convicted Thursday of misdemeanor petty theft for taking a bottle of ketchup from Chapman University.
A jury of seven women and five men deliberated three hours over two days before deciding unanimously that Steve Rocco stole the 14-ounce bottle of Heinz 57 last Sept. 27.
Rocco, who became known for railing about conspiracies against him by a group he called the Partnership during his single term on the school board, testified that he was set up by political enemies.
He insisted that witnesses against him, including campus police officers, lied.
In earlier court papers, he said he took the bottle to recycle it.
Deputy Public Defender Erica Gambale said Rocco picked up the bottle of ketchup, which likely was left out overnight, from a table in an outdoor eating area on campus. She argued that its worth was "zero dollars and zero cents," which meant no crime was committed because nothing of value was taken.
Rocco faces up to six months in jail, but prosecutors said earlier he most likely would face a small fine and probation.
Susan Schroeder of the Orange County District Attorney's Office said previously that she also expected prosecutors to seek an order barring Rocco from the Chapman campus.
During the trial, there were various estimates of the worth of the ketchup, with school officials reporting that they pay $1.20 per bottle.
There was also dispute as to how much was left, with one campus officer saying the bottle was three-quarters full. There was also some indication that the bottle had to be shaken in order to detect some liquid inside.
Fernandez told the jury that a couple of days earlier, Rocco -- who was still on the school board at the time -- had been given a "strong hint" that he "really didn't need to be on campus."
Chapman, a private university, is not a part of the Orange Unified School District, Fernandez noted.
"His motive would appear to be getting back" at the university, Fernandez said, telling jurors the 58-year-old defendant had "no respect" for the school's property.
"People have a legitimate interest in their property," Fernandez said. "Most people wouldn't flaunt the law like that and then manipulate the system. The defendant is not an innocent victim."
She also countered Gambale's argument that Rocco was targeted for his eccentric ways. "He's not being prosecuted because he's off," Fernandez said.
Rocco, who consistently wore a black knit cap and dark sunglasses during board meetings, was not allowed to keep his hat on in the courtroom. He took to showing up in court sporting a large white bandage taped to the forward portion of his skull.
Rocco lost his seat when trustees redrew his district's boundary lines. He lost a bid last year to win a seat on the Santa Ana City Council.