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Former Limestone Sheriff Mike Blakely granted parole, to be released

Blakely, Alabama’s longest serving sheriff, will be released after serving just over a year of his three-year sentence.

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely
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Mike Blakely is getting out of jail. 

The Alabama Pardons and Parole Board voted, 2-1, on Thursday to grant parole to Blakely, who has served just over a year of his three-year sentence.

Alabama’s longest serving sheriff at the time of his conviction in 2021, Blakely, a Democrat, was found guilty by a Limestone County jury of two felony counts of theft and abuse of power. His prosecution, and his ultimate conviction, were controversial, particularly in Limestone County where Blakely was a beloved figure. 

That was evident at his parole hearing, where an odd array of supporters packed the audience or wrote letters of support, according to Blakely’s supporters included the current Athens police chief, Republican Party chairman John Wahl, numerous state lawmakers and employees of the Limestone County Sheriff’s Department. 

At his trial, Blakely’s attorneys argued that Blakely had committed no crimes and that even after months of investigating, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office could produce no evidence that Blakely ever took a dime of taxpayer money. 

So, instead, Blakely was convicted of receiving interest-free loans. He, and other sheriff’s office employees, routinely borrowed money from an account set up to hold inmate funds. It was a routine occurrence that went on unquestioned for decades, until a state audit a few years ago took issue with the practice. During court testimony, employees testified that Blakely stopped the practice after questions were raised. His attorneys were quick to point out, however, that even the audit found that the books balanced. 

His other crime centered on a campaign overpayment for services, with the overage later ending up in Blakely’s personal account. The AG’s office argued that Blakely was misusing his campaign account to enrich himself by $4,000. Blakely’s team argued that it was a simple mistake of co-mingling funds that should have gone to Blakely anyway. 

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At the center of the allegation was an odd witness – Trent Willis, then owner of Redbrick Strategies. Willis was, himself, under state investigation at the time for allegedly defrauding state Rep. Ritchie Whorton’s campaign of more than $100,000 and accepting money from other candidates for work that was never performed. 

The AG’s office, despite requests from Blakely’s defense team to disclose any witnesses under state investigation, kept Willis’ investigation a secret until he was on the witness stand. The judge on the case, Pamela Baschaub, who was specially appointed, allowed Willis to testify and refused to dismiss the theft charge that was supported only by Willis’ testimony. 

After the trial, a juror submitted an affidavit saying she wished to recant her guilty verdict on the two counts and blamed health issues for not speaking up during deliberations or when polled by the judge after the verdict was read. 

Blakely was never sent to an Alabama state prison. He remained incarcerated in the Franklin County jail, where he was placed on work release after three weeks.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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