Sheriff Abril trial has begun

Published 10:53 am Friday, August 1, 2008

Abril has said from the start that the charges were politically motivated because he was running for sheriff. But the mother of one of the alleged victims told reporters that she called the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation when she found out Abril was running for the office and asked them to look into the case again.

One of the alleged victims said she went to authorities around 1990 to report the alleged incidents previously, but the district attorney then said there wasn&squo;t enough evidence to prosecute. The alleged victim later sent a letter to the editor to the Bulletin describing the alleged crimes.

The SBI conducted a five-month investigation prior to Abril&squo;s indictments and the case was then turned over to the state attorney general&squo;s office rather than the district attorney. The indictments include the name of the alleged victim who went to authorities previously, along with another alleged victim.

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A grand jury met in August, 2006 and handed down true bills of indictments with the two alleged victims saying the acts occurred between July 1987 and October 1989, when the two girls were 10 and 11.

Judge Zoro Guice Jr. will be the sitting judge during the specially called superior court session. Senior Deputy Attorney General James Coman will prosecute, and Abril will be defended by attorney Stephen Lindsey of Asheville.

The selection of jurors will begin Monday and is expected to continue for about four days. The Polk County Clerk of Courts Office sent out 400 jury notices in recent weeks. The court plans to bring 100 potential jurors each day. Those not selected out of each day&squo;s group will be released at the end of the day. A new group of about 100 potential jurors will go through the same selection process on the next day.

Abril&squo;s trial will be the first court session held in the newly renovated Polk County Courthouse since the courthouse was closed in 2004 after engineers deemed the second floor unsafe for public use. Parking in the courthouse area will be restricted for the trial to make sure there are enough spaces for jurors and others involved in the case. County employees received notice this week that they are to park in the Feagan building parking lot across from Columbus Town Hall.

The Rutherford County Sheriff&squo;s Office will handle bailiff duties in the courtroom next week.

The Abril case has been the talk of the community for the past couple of years, with many in the county supporting Abril and others criticizing how he is running the sheriff&squo;s office. The case has been&bsp; repeatedly continued and it was just in May that the date of the special trial was finally set.

Since Abril&squo;s swearing in on Dec. 4, 2006, his office and his performance has seen a lot of publicity. County commissioners have expressed concerns on several occasions about operational issues.

Abril recently sent the Bulletin a letter to the editor asking that people leave his employees alone and let them do their jobs.

Abril initially hired local attorney Mark Feagan and then asked Chris Stepp, an attorney in Hendersonville, to join Feagan. Both those attorneys resigned as counsel last August and Abril hired Lindsey.

In March, 2007, state prosecutors made a motion for the trial&squo;s venue to be moved outside of Polk County, but Judge James U. Downs ruled that the trial will be held in Polk County. The state argued then that because of the high profile of the case and the fact that many residents either know Sheriff Abril or have already formed an opinion regarding the case, the trial should be moved to another county. The defense at the time argued that sufficient jurors could be found in Polk County.

It&squo;s unclear how long the trial may take. Juror selection is expected to end by next Thursday, and testimony likely will begin on Monday, Aug. 11. But the schedule is subject to change.

If Abril is found guilty, he could face life in prison. His term as sheriff is up in 2010.