Five weeks after a new trial date was announced for Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to another continuance, records show.
Judge Pride Tompkins did not include a new date in the order, filed Friday. Instead, he said the trial has been “continued generally, pending further orders of the Court.”
Blakely, who was first elected sheriff in 1982, was indicted by a Limestone County grand jury in August 2019. He pleaded not guilty to the 13-count indictment at a November 2019 arraignment.
A trial date was initially set for March 9, 2020. At least 500 jury summonses were mailed to county residents, but due to the lack of space in the Limestone County Courthouse, it was decided the new Athens High School would be used for determining who would serve as jurors for the trial.
However, before the trial could begin, the coronavirus pandemic led to court systems across Alabama shutting down. The entire trial was placed on hold, where it remained until November 2020, when the state filed a motion asking for a trial setting or status conference.
The next month, a trial date of March 29 was announced. Now the case re-enters “on hold” status.
Of the 13 counts, 12 are felonies and one is a misdemeanor. Counts 1–4 charge him with thefts from his campaign account, totaling $11,000; counts 5–10 charge him with theft or ethics charges stemming from money taken from Limestone County funds, including the pistol permit fund; count 11 charges him with soliciting $1,000 from an employee; and counts 12 and 13 charge him with using his position as sheriff to obtain interest-free loans, including from a safe that held money belonging to Limestone County Jail inmates.
Two of the counts, part of the group of five stemming from money taking from Limestone County funds, have since been dismissed.
Monday's COVID numbers
As of Monday, Limestone County had successfully dropped into the “moderate risk” category for spreading COVID-19. The Alabama Department of Public Health reports the county is continuing to meet testing goals and visits to health care facilities for COVID-like symptoms are declining.
However, out of those who did visit, nearly 1 in 3 have tested positive for COVID-19. Limestone County began reporting an increase in positive tests in the week before Thanksgiving, and reports continued to increase in the weeks that followed, ADPH data shows.
The percentage of reported tests that were positive jumped from 14.11% the week of Nov. 15 to 23.31% the week of Dec. 6, 25.15% the week of Dec. 20 and 30.99% the week of Dec. 27. ADPH noted this data does not include “those few laboratories that are not yet reporting both positive and negative results,” meaning labs that report only positive or only negative are excluded from the data.
More than 6,600 Limestone Countians have been confirmed positive for the disease since reporting began in March 2020. Another 961 were reported as “probable” cases. COVID-19 is the confirmed cause of death for 57 people in Limestone County.