Following the first day of testimony in the trial of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, defense attorneys have filed a motion to toss out one of the most serious charges against Blakely and essentially accused the Alabama Attorney General’s Office of misleading the court.
The motion came in response to the testimony of Trent Willis, the owner of now-defunct Red Brick Strategies, a politically-connected advertising firm that worked with Blakely on his recent re-election campaign. Willis testified that he conspired with Blakely to defraud Blakely’s campaign account by having the campaign overpay for services, which Red Brick would then refund directly to Blakely.
Willis’ testimony was cut short and later suspended altogether as attorneys for the two sides argued without the jury present. According to the motion filed late Monday evening by the defense, during the arguments before Judge Pamela Baschab on Monday afternoon, attorneys for the AG’s office revealed to the court for the first time that Willis was under investigation by the state. As such, he would be allowed to not answer the defense’s questions, avoiding self-incrimination.
That revelation apparently angered Baschab and prompted Blakely’s defense team to ask the judge for a mistrial — a motion Bashab denied.
Blakely’s defense team, led by Huntsville attorney Robert Tuten, had asked the AG’s office in filings prior to the start of trial to provide the defense with the names of any witnesses under investigation or who have entered agreements or plea bargains with the AG’s office. According to sources who were present when those matters were argued before Baschab, attorneys for the AG’s office said no witnesses had deals and no investigations were active. When asked specifically about Willis, the sources said, the state said he was unknown to them.
APR reported extensively on Willis and his odd lack of legal troubles — a story that Blakely’s attorneys referenced in court on Monday. A current state lawmaker, Rep. Ritchie Whorton, accused Willis of stealing around $100,000 from Whorton’s campaign account. Whorton took documentation of the alleged theft and the alleged fraudulent campaign finance reports that Willis filed to the AG’s office in 2018.
At the AG’s office, Whorton and prominent political consultant Steve Raby said they met with investigators and provided them with bank records and spreadsheets showing the alleged theft. Since that time, nearly three years later, Whorton and Raby have been unable to get any information from the AG’s office about the theft investigation, or if there was one.
The cause of the lack of movement on the alleged theft from Whorton now seems clear, at least to Blakely’s attorneys: The state was covering up a deal it had made with a key witness.
In its motion to dismiss the charge related to Willis’ testimony, Blakely’s defense team noted the numerous times that the AG’s office apparently lied to the court when it stated Willis was not under investigation for public corruption crimes. At one point, speaking to a judge, an assistant AG said that he had “checked with every office and division, from the top to the bottom,” of the AG’s office and there was no investigation involving Willis.
However, following Willis’ testimony that he conspired with Blakely, the defense motion states, assistant AG Clark Morris — the head of the division that would investigate Willis’ crimes — revealed to the court that Willis was, in fact, under investigation and asked the court to advise Willis of his 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination.
The motion asks the judge to remove the charge related to Willis, strike his testimony and strike all documents introduced during his testimony.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Blakely is facing 11 counts of misusing his office for personal gain and theft of campaign funds.