ATHENS, Ala. – Former Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely will not be getting a new trial as of Monday.
Judge Pamela Baschab denied Blakely’s motion for a new trial, originally filed on Aug. 30.
In the motion, Blakely’s lawyers argued the court made several errors, including:
- Closing the courtroom to the public and media for a day and a half
- Failing to dismiss a theft count he was convicted of, because his attorneys say, it was a campaign act violation but was treated as a standard theft count and failing to grant the defense’s claim that the charge exceeded the statute of limitations
- Failing to grant a mistrial after the defense alleged prosecutors from the Alabama Attorney General’s office failed to disclose to the defense that a state witness, Trent Willis, was under investigation by the Attorney General’s office for stealing from another candidate’s campaign
- Failing to grant a mistrial after a juror came forward after the verdict and claimed she issued the wrong verdict due to health reasons. Blakely’s lawyers contend a hearing should have been held to assess the juror’s claims
- The court erred in its reading of Alabama’s sentencing guidelines, in sentencing Blakely to 36 months in jail. The defense says the court also erred in letting prosecutors assert aggravators related to Blakely’s conduct despite the requirement that those aggravators have to – and were not – asserted seven days before the trial
The state cited and sought to rebut all of the claims Blakely’s lawyers made, including:
- Closing the courtroom for a day and a half to the public and media during jury selection.
- The state’s motion said the defense didn’t object to this arrangement at the start of the trial;
- Failing to dismiss a theft count he was convicted of, because his attorneys said, it was a campaign act violation but was treated as a standard theft count.
- Blakely’s argument of “I can’t steal from my own campaign” was denied during his trial, and that two motions for acquittal and the argument for a new trial does not offer any new reasoning or case law;
- Failing to grant a mistrial after the defense alleged prosecutors from the Alabama Attorney General’s office failed to disclose to the defense that a state witness, Trent Willis, was under investigation by the Attorney General’s office for stealing from another candidate’s campaign.
- Blakely knew about the Attorney General’s investigation into Willis as early as February 2020 and that the former sheriff did not learn about it during the trial;
Blakely, represented by defense attorney Robert Tuten, is appealing his case, and will remain out of jail until all his appeal options are exhausted.
Huntsville-based attorney Ron Smith, who is not affiliated with this case, explained that the appeals process could take years. He said after attorneys file a notice of appeal court clerks and reporters compile all the documents and transcripts associated with the case. In the Blakely case, this process could take a few months.
“This is the longest case we’ve tried in this area in probably several years,” Smith said. I expect it will be two or three months at least before the transcript and the record is complete.”
Smith says after that attorneys can file a brief with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. The state has a chance to respond and after that the appealing attorney can file another response. Smith says oftentimes the appellate court does not allow for oral arguments to be made before they make a decision, but there are exceptions.
“This is one of those cases where it could receive oral argument. It’s few and far between, but this is a high profile case and it has some interesting legal issues,” Smith stated.
It could take more than a year for the state appellate court to make a decision, which both sides can ask to be reconsidered.
After this process, Smith says attorneys can ask the Supreme Court of Alabama to hear the case. If the court decides to take up the case, it could be a year or several months before the state’s high court makes a ruling.
Blakely would begin to serve his sentence if the state Supreme Court does not rule in his favor.
“Once you get a final answer from the Alabama Supreme Court they send it back to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, they’ll issue a certificate of judgment.,” he said. “And then once you have that certificate of judgment then somebody who is out on bond has 15 days to turn themselves in.”
Blakely was sentenced to 36 months in jail for theft and ethics violations in August, and stripped of his title as Limestone County Sheriff.
Joshua McLaughlin was appointed the new Limestone County Sheriff on Sept. 1 after Limestone County Coroner Mike West served as interim sheriff under state law.