Jury set in Harris retrial

Brad Hicks • Dec 10, 2012 at 9:21 PM

The jury in former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris’ retrial on a theft-related charge was set Monday in Unicoi County Criminal Court.

Jury selection made up the entirety of the first day of the retrial. Over the course of setting the final jury, which is made up of 12 members with two alternate jurors, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood and attorneys excused more than 25 prospective jurors, and the final jury was set at around 5:50 p.m.

Testimony from witnesses and opening statements from the prosecution and defense were not given Monday, but court is expected to begin with opening statements when it resumes at 9 a.m. today.

Earlier this year, Harris faced trial on charges of theft over $4,500 and criminal simulation, two of the 10 felony charges a Unicoi County grand jury indicted Harris on in October 2011. It is alleged that Harris sought and received $4,500 in county funds to pay for two vehicles that were actually donated to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department in September 2008.

During the first trial, which lasted for four days and ended on Aug. 2, Blackwood granted the directed verdict on the criminal simulation charge and advised the jury that the charge would not be considered.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the court as a matter of law has directed a verdict in favor of the defendant on that charge,” Blackwood said to the jury according to the trial’s transcript. “He’s not...the court has granted a directed verdict. He is not charged with criminal simulation. You will not be considering that charge.”

Tony Clark told jurors in the first trial that the prosecution intended to show the vehicles were, in fact, donated to the county but Harris wound up with the $4,500 in question. Harris’ defense stated it would show this money was a portion of the funding that was to go toward the care of two bloodhounds purchased by county resident Tom Colbaugh to serve as search and rescue dogs for the sheriff’s department.

The first trial was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Harris was set to begin trial Monday on an official misconduct charge, an 11th felony charge handed down by a grand jury in February. However, District Attorney General Tony Clark said he wanted to use this time to retry Harris on the theft over $1,000 charge.

Colbaugh and his wife, Lynn Colbaugh, are once again set to provide testimony. Those also slated to give testimony during the retrial are current Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, Unicoi County Clerk Mitzi Bowen and Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch.

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