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Jurors begin weighing fate of longtime Alabama sheriff

ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — Jurors on Friday began deliberating charges against a longtime Alabama sheriff who took the stand to deny accusations that he took money from public and campaign accounts and gambled in casinos at taxpayer expense.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers finished closing arguments in the corruption case against Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely and jurors got the case around 2 p.m. News outlets reported the jurors were sent home for the weekend late Friday afternoon and will resume their deliberations Monday morning.

Blakely faces charges of using his office for personal gain, theft of campaign funds and taking money held by the sheriff’s office. He has continued working as sheriff since being indicted in 2019 on multiple charges but would automatically be removed from office with a felony conviction.

Prosecutors began their closing arguments to jurors by stepping through allegations that the sheriff took thousands of dollars illegally, news outlets reported.

“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.”

Defense lawyer Robert Tuten told jurors that there is a simple explanation for each of these charges, if they just look. Tuten said no money is missing and all of the accounts balance.

“The criminal case against Sheriff Blakely died in the courtroom floor,” Tuten said in his closing arguments.

Judge Pamela Baschab rejected a defense request to end the trial with a verdict of acquittal.

Blakely, 70, testified Thursday about a series of transactions and checks that prosecutors say are evidence of wrongdoing, and the defense contends show nothing but normal campaign finances, news outlets reported.

First elected in 1982 and rarely seen without boots and a cowboy hat, Blakely said he sometimes deposited campaign funds into his personal account because his campaign treasurer lived hours away and encouraged him to deposit the money as reimbursement for campaign expenses.

While testimony showed Blakely sometimes left IOUs and took money from a jail safe used to hold inmates’ money, he said that wasn’t a crime. He also said nothing illegal occurred when county prisoners worked at a business where a part owner gave him a check for $50,000.

Blakely didn’t deny gambling at casinos during trips to the Gulf Coast and Nevada for law enforcement conferences, but he said the outings didn’t cost taxpayers extra and denied accusations that an employee sent him money because he was broke from losses.

In one case, Blakely said, he asked an employee to send him money because he thought he might not have enough money to drive back to Alabama from Nevada.

“Did you run short of money because you gambled in a casino?” asked defense lawyer Robert Tuten.

“No sir,” Blakely replied.

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