ATHENS, Ala. — The longest-serving sheriff in Alabama will go on trial starting Monday in Limestone County.
Sheriff Mike Blakely, who first took office in 1983, faces theft and ethics charges in a case brought by the Alabama Attorney General’s office.
Blakely was indicted back in August 2019, but the case has faced several delays, including the recusal of the retired judge assigned to the case.
The jury selection process is due to get underway Monday morning.
Based on the filings in the case, it appears it will take several weeks to try it.
Because Blakely is so well-known in the community, there is a huge jury pool, numbering nearly 500 people. The list of subpoenaed witnesses includes at least 34 notices of service. That list includes sheriff’s office employees, state realtor board officials, casino employees from Mississippi and at least one representative from the Alabama Ethics Commission.
A detailed look at financial records is also expected.
The case against Blakley focuses on the alleged misuse of sheriff’s office and campaign funds.
Prosecutors have argued records of the sheriff’s drinking and gambling in out-of-state casinos are related to the allegations. The defense has argued that evidence is aimed at harming the sheriff’s reputation.
The jury pool has also been mailed a detailed questionnaire and the defense Tuesday asked the court to exclude people from the jury pool who have not yet returned a completed form.
The court granted that motion Wednesday afternoon.
Prosecutors also filed a new motion Tuesday, concerning Blakely’s defense. They acknowledged the motion was not “timely” based on early court orders but said it was necessary because it just learned about the defense’s plan.
“Specifically, this morning, and clearly well after the deadline established by the court for motions expired, the State learned that Blakely intends to offer evidence of other public employees or public officials engaging in acts similar to his in an attempt to establish the ‘everyone-is-doing-it-and-the-State-is-picking-on-me’ defense.”
Prosecutors argued the proposed evidence is not relevant to the case against Blakely and would confuse the jury.
“Moreover, allowing Blakely to introduce this evidence would allow him to pursue an inappropriate and untimely selective prosecution claim – a claim that presents a question for the Court, not a jury,” the motion argues. “Claims regarding the motivation for prosecution are not defenses on the merits of the criminal charge itself, and therefore are not appropriate to bring before the jury.”
Wednesday afternoon, the court agreed, barring the defense from using evidence about other officials who have engaged in similar conduct.
Blakely has remained on the job since his indictment. A felony conviction would end his tenure, but it appears a multi-week trial is looming before a jury determines his immediate future.