ATHENS, Ala. — Former Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely was sentenced to three years in jail for theft and felony ethics violations Friday morning.
Blakely, 70, also was sentenced to two years probation.
Court records showed an appeal was filed shortly after his sentence, and Blakely was released on a $50,000 bond.
During opening arguments Friday morning, the prosecution argued Blakely needed to serve a sentence behind bars to discourage other public officials from committing the same crimes – prosecutors said former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman still believes he did nothing wrong after being sentenced to seven years in prison for federal felony corruption charges in 2006.
The defense countered by arguing the attention from local, state, and national media sources were enough to deter anyone from committing similar crimes, saying Judge Pamela Baschab should consider that Blakely lost his career, retirement, reputation, and dignity, having to be incarcerated in his own jail.
Several witnesses called by the defense, including a Limestone County Sheriff’s Office employee who threatened a News 19 reporter Friday morning, argued Blakely made a mistake, but it wasn’t worthy of jail time.
The prosecution argued there are 66 other sheriffs who are watching this case, wondering what laws they really need to abide by. “Do I just risk losing my job or could I risk being confined,” prosecuting attorney Kyle Beckman asked.
Blakely was convicted on August 2 after a four-week-long trial that began with a one-week-long jury selection, followed by three weeks of testimony.
It was difficult to find Limestone County residents that were willing to sit against the man who served them for 38 years.
The judge originally appointed to the case also recused himself from the trial, stating the pandemic and his high-risk status as his reasoning.
The jury found Blakely guilty on a theft of property charge for depositing a $4,000 check for his campaign to his own bank account and an ethics charge for borrowing up to $29,000 from a jail inmate fund and waiting months in some cases, to pay it back.
Blakley filed a motion for mistrial after a juror came forward a few days after his conviction. The juror said that she was coerced by her medical condition to vote with the rest of the jury to convict him.
Judge Pamela Baschab denied that motion, largely due to the fact you cannot have a mistrial until after a sentence has been given but also, a juror cannot ‘attack or impeach’ their own verdict, according to Alabama court procedures.
Blakely has remained in an isolated cell at the Limestone County Jail since his conviction.
The charges carry a sentencing range of 2 to 20 years in prison. However, he is unlikely to face prison time as his charges fall under Alabama’s presumptive sentencing guidelines.
The guidelines largely direct judges to sentence based on a sentencing ‘score’ derived from a worksheet. The worksheet will be used in Blakely’s case.
The state had recommended that Blakely spend three years in jail, followed by two years probation in a facility outside of Limestone County. This sentence would be allowed under the current guidelines, however, there is also a sentence-length worksheet Judge Baschab will use to determine Blakely’s sentence.
Former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice argued on Blakely’s behalf at his sentencing. As chief justice, she played a key role in helping establish these sentencing guidelines in Alabama for non-violent offenders convicted of property crimes — like the former sheriff.