Sheriff Abril trial continued until November 17

Published 5:05 pm Thursday, November 6, 2008

The trial involving Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril on charges of statutory rape and sexual offense on a child is set to begin again, this time in Haywood County.

The case is scheduled to start Thursday morning in Waynesville with the court hearing excuses from jurors who say they cannot serve. The judge will determine whether to eliminate some prospective jurors from the pool before jury selection begins next week.

The trial previously began in Polk County on August 1. But a few days later, following allegations that Abril was involved in jury tampering, Judge Zoro Guice Jr. approved a request by prospectors to change the venue to Haywood County.

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Judge Guice strongly reprimanded Abril after evidence came forward that he spoke by phone with a prospective juror. But the judge stopped short of revoking Abril&squo;s bail bond and sending him to jail, as requested by prosecutors. Judge Guice said at the time that he did not want to prejudice the case by making Abril appear guilty.

Abril, who is facing five counts of statutory rape and one count of sexual offense on a child, has maintained his innocence since his arrest on Aug. 28, 2006.&bsp; He was indicted on the charges shortly after he filed to run for sheriff and subsequently won the office against then incumbent sheriff David Satterfield.

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&squo;&bsp; 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 had gone 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 restating 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 authorites previously, along with another alleged victim.

A grand jury met in August, 2006 and handed down true bills of indictments with the two victims alleging that the acts occurred between July, 1987 and October, 1989. The girls were ages 10 and 11 at the time of the alleged sexual encounters.

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

The selection of jurors is expected to begin Monday and continue for about four days. The actual trial could begin the following week.

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