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Jury selection set to begin for trial of Alabama sheriff

ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — A longtime Alabama sheriff accused on theft and ethics charges is set to stand trial nearly two years after he was indicted.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday for Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, who has continued to serve despite facing a dozen felony counts alleging he stole campaign donations, got interest-free loans and solicited money from employees.

Blakely, 70, has pleaded not guilty and announced plans to seek an 11th term in office if acquitted. While state law doesn’t require the removal of a sheriff under indictment, a conviction would result in his automatic ouster from office.

In office since 1983, Blakely is currently the state’s longest-serving sheriff. Court officials summoned roughly five times as many potential jurors as normal, about 500 people, because Blakely is so well known in the area, news outlets reported.

Prosecutors have tried to tie charges that Blakely took money from public and campaign accounts to claims that Blakely drinks and gambles in out-of-state casinos. While the defense argued that such evidence is aimed at harming the sheriff’s reputation, a judge ruled previously that jurors would be allowed to hear it.

Meanwhile, Judge Pamela Baschab barred the defense from presenting evidence to show that other public officials have done the same thing as Blakely without being charged. In a brief order, she agreed with prosecutors who claimed that an “everyone is doing it and the state is picking on me” defense can’t be presented to jurors.

“Because past or present conduct of others is irrelevant to a determination of Blakely’s guilt or innocence, any evidence about them is inadmissible,” prosecutors from the state attorney general’s office argued in court documents.

Attorneys have subpoenaed dozens of potential witnesses for the trial, which was delayed several times for reasons including the pandemic.

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