A north Alabama jury Monday convicted Mike Blakely, the state’s longest serving sheriff, of two felony counts in his corruption trial and he was taken to jail.
After weeks of testimony and dozens of witnesses, the jury in downtown Athens found Blakely guilty of one count of theft and one count of using his position for personal gain. The theft charge was related to his campaign fund and dealings with Red Brick consulting, while the personal gain charge was related to loans from a safe that held money belonging to inmates.
The jury had considered 10 charges of theft and use of position for personal gain — nine felonies and one misdemeanor. But the jury found Blakely not guilty on the other eight counts.
Pamela Baschab, the retired judge specially appointed to preside over the case, said in court that she was remanding Blakely to jail. His attorneys are asking for bond to be set.
After nearly four decades as sheriff in Limestone County, Blakely was escorted from the courtroom to jail by one of his deputies.
The office of Steve Marshall, Alabama’s Republican attorney general, prosecuted the case. The state initially brought 13 charges.
“13 counts are now down to two counts,” said Mark McDaniel, an attorney on Blakey’s defense team, after hearing the verdict. “We will certainly appeal this decision.”
Clay Crenshaw, chief deputy attorney general, read a statement from Marshall’s office.
“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” he said. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm.”
Blakely, a Democrat, first took office as the sheriff of Limestone County in 1983. Because of the felony convictions, Alabama law says that he will lose the elected office he has held for 10 terms. Until Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey appoints a replacement, state law says that Mike West, the county coroner, will take over as sheriff.
Baschab said she will set a sentencing date later. Blakely could face time in prison.
The jury convicted Blakely of stealing $4,000 from his campaign account by funneling the money through Red Brick, a Huntsville consulting firm. The jurors also found Blakely guilty of obtaining $29,050 in interest free loans from a safe that held money belonging to inmates in the county jail he oversaw as sheriff.
Lawyers from the state’s special prosecutions division failed to prove three other charges that Blakely stole from his campaign, and allegations that he misused or stole money from the county law enforcement fund, went gambling on the taxpayers’ dime, solicited money from one of his employees and traded inmate labor in exchange for a $50,000 loan.
Robert Tuten, Blakely’s lead defense attorney told the jury in closing arguments that the sheriff was not guilty because the state hadn’t proven that he intended to commit any crimes.
“If there is no intent...then there is no crime,” Tuten told the jury on Friday. “There’s no missing money. All the accounts balance.”
Kyle Beckman, an assistant attorney general, told the jury that Blakely violated the public’s trust.
“He swore an oath not just to enforce the law but to obey the law,” Kyle Beckman, a state assistant attorney general, told the jury. “He swore it 10 different times. Mike Blakely violated that oath.”
Blakely was indicted in August of 2019 on 13 charges. Prosecutors dismissed two charges before trial and dropped a third charge after presenting their case to the jury.
The jury deliberated on five ethics charges accusing Blakely of using his position for personal gain, four felony counts of theft and one misdemeanor count of theft.
Blakely, 70, is just one of several Limestone County officials who have come under scrutiny for corruption in the past few years. Limestone, home to nearly 100,000, is one of the fastest-growing counties in the Alabama, as the Huntsville suburbs continue to spread west.
The trial began three weeks ago with jury selection being held in secret. Judge Baschab opened the proceedings after the Alabama Press Association filed a motion on behalf of news outlets across north Alabama. The judge said she decided to allow members of the news media to watch the proceedings because of a joint motion filed by the defense and prosecution.
At trial, jurors heard testimony from 46 witnesses and saw hundreds of pages of documents, including bank statements, phone logs, casino records and sheriff’s office files.
The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for about nine hours, beginning Friday afternoon and continuing on Monday.