ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) – The State of Alabama this week responded to former Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely’s appeal of his conviction on first-degree theft of property and use of official position for personal gain charges.
Blakely was found guilty in August 2021 on those two counts and acquitted on several other theft and ethics counts. He was Alabama’s longest-serving sheriff at the time of his conviction.
Blakely was sentenced to three years in a county jail, but he remains out on bond during his appeal.
He was prosecuted by the Alabama Attorney General’s office. The AG’s office on Monday filed its reply to the defense’s appeal brief that called for Blakely’s conviction to be overturned.
The defense says the court should have declared a mistrial after it was revealed a key prosecution witness was under investigation by the AG’s office for stealing campaign money from Alabama Rep. Ritchie Whorton, R-Scottsboro, related to his 2018 campaign.
The theft count alleged Blakely took $4,000 in 2014 that was intended for political consultant Trent Willis and placed it into his personal account. The defense says the judge should have declared a mistrial after it was revealed that Willis was under investigation by state prosecutors. The AG’s office argues the defense was told about that investigation well before the trial and the defense clearly knew, since it had several witnesses on its witness list pre-trial who were later called to impeach Willis’ testimony, including Whorton.
“One can hardly imagine what else Blakely could have done to impress his view on the jury that Willis was not a reliable witness,” prosecutors wrote in their response to Blakely’s appeal.
The appeal reply brief notes that Willis was under investigation, but a review of Alabama court records finds no charges have been filed.
The defense also argues there was insufficient evidence for the jury to find Blakely guilty of using his office for personal gain. The defense argues there was no criminal intent on Blakely’s part in borrowing money from Limestone County Jail prisoner accounts. and no money was ultimately missing.
The AG’s reply brief argues there was plenty of evidence of misuse of office, primarily that Blakely was able to access $29,000 in interest-free and was allowed to pay the money back at his leisure by handing IOUs to a jail employee.
“The jury further learned that Blakely asked Robinson to hold his checks because he would have bounced them otherwise,” the appeal reply argues. “The State presented evidence of nineteen personal checks totaling $29,050 that Blakely wrote to his own inmates, each of which Blakely could not cover at one time or another. Alabama law describes personal gain as being achieved ‘when the public official . . . receives, obtains, exerts control over, or otherwise converts to personal use the object constituting such personal gain.’”
The reply brief also acknowledges that the money may have been fully returned, but it argues that doesn’t matter.
“Lastly, Blakely makes something of his claim that no inmates were harmed by his actions,” the reply brief argues. “Perhaps. But it makes no difference to Blakely’s guilt. Alabama’s use-of-office charge does not carve out crimes where all the money gets put back where it belongs.”