Alabama sheriff’s trial resumes after question about witness

Published 6:44 am Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The theft and ethics trial of a north Alabama sheriff resumed Tuesday with testimony about the state’s ethics law after a judge considered questions about a state witness who also is under investigation.

Cynthia Raulston, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, told jurors in Sheriff Mike Blakely’s trial about the law, which prohibits public officials from using their office for personal gain, news outlets reported.

Another witness, former sheriff’s office clerk Romona Robinson, testified that money belonging to inmates was kept in a safe, and that Blakely sometimes would ask for money and leave an IOU inside but not repay the amounts for an extended period.

Earlier, Judge Pamela Baschab refused to throw out testimony from another witness who was revealed as being under investigation after he took the stand on behalf of the state.

Trent Willis, a political consultant whose firm Red Brick Strategies worked for Blakely’s campaign in 2014, testified that an Athens attorney agreed to pay the $3,500 monthly charge to Red Brick on behalf of Blakely’s campaign.

After getting checks from the lawyer for months, Red Brick received a $7,500 check from Blakely’s campaign account, evidence showed. Blakely later deposited a $4,000 refund check from Red Brick Strategies into his personal bank account, according to prosecutors, rather than sending the money to his campaign account.

Before the defense could begin cross-examination, Deputy Attorney General Clark Morris told Baschab that Willis himself was under investigation. A defense lawyer said Willis was being reviewed in the theft of $100,000 from a campaign account of a state lawmaker, state Rep. Richie Whorton.

While the defense claimed it didn’t know Willis was under investigation, prosecutors said Blakely’s lawyers actually knew about the review before them because different sections of the attorney general’s office are separated to prevent conflicts of interest.
Baschab denied a defense request for a mistrial but told the prosecution and defense to file motions about Willis’ testimony before the trial resumed. She refused a defense request to tell jurors to ignore the testimony.

Blakely, 70, has continued serving as sheriff since being indicted in 2019 on multiple charges. He would automatically be removed from office with a felony conviction.