Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely was booked into his own jail on Aug. 22, 2019 on criminal charges.
A judge has decided to delay for one week the criminal trial of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, who is hospitalized for respiratory issues.
Circuit Judge N. Pride Tompkins reached the decision based on an agreement between prosecutors and Blakely’s lawyers at an emergency court hearing on Saturday morning. Jurors will still report to the Limestone County Courthouse on Monday, but they will be divided into panels and told to return a week later.
A hearing was called this morning after Blakely’s attorneys, Robert Tuten and Marcus Helstowski, on Friday afternoon filed a motion asking to postpone the trial. In their motion, the attorneys claimed Blakely was hospitalized and being tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
But Dr. Maria Acelajado Onoya, an attending physician at Athens Limestone Hospital testified this morning that Blakely wasn’t being tested for COVID-19 because he doesn’t have a fever and hasn’t been exposed to the virus.
“He would not be a person suspected to have COVID-19,” Onoya told the judge.
Blakely was admitted to the hospital Friday morning because of difficulty breathing and a low oxygen level. The doctor testified that Blakely was tested for common coronaviruses, the flu and pneumonia and the results were negative for those conditions.
Judge Tompkins said it was “irresponsible” and “reckless” for Blakely’s attorneys to incorrectly cite Covid-19 in a publicly filed court motion.
“There’s no medical basis for it,” Tompkins told the defense attorneys. “I don’t know if you’re trying to scare the jury from coming in.”
Tuten, Blakely’s lead defense attorney, said they didn’t intend to cause public panic; but rather communicated the information they got from their client.
“We’re not trying to pull a fast one,” Tuten told the judge. “We didn’t intend to disturb the community or cause an uproar.”
Blakely, 69, is scheduled to face trial Monday on 11 charges of theft and abuse of power. (He was indicted in August of 2019 on 13 charges, but prosecutors on Friday dropped two of the charges.) The sheriff is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from his campaign account and illegally taking money from Limestone County funds. Blakely, who has been sheriff since 1983, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Blakely’s attorneys last month argued for a postponement because Tuten, the lead counsel, is recovering from a surgery and complications. The judge denied that request, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals declined to overturn it.
At a pretrial hearing in January, Judge Tompkins explicitly said he would not postpone the trial and specifically warned Blakely that a continuance wouldn’t be granted on account of his lawyer’s health. The judge at that time told Blakely to hire a new attorney if Tuten wouldn’t be available for trial.
Tuten told the judge during a contentious part of this morning’s hearing that he was in court against medical advice.
It’s unclear how long it will take for Blakely to recover. He’s been diagnosed with acute respiratory failure and was experiencing shortness of breath and wheezing when he was admitted to the hospital. Dr. Onoya testified today that she couldn’t yet determine when Blakely would be well enough for his trial. But, he isn’t likely to be released from the hospital before Monday, the doctor told the judge.