A former sheriff used to enforcing the law finds himself at the mercy of the justice system. Former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris began one of at least four trials Monday.
The day started with hours of jury selection, but by the afternoon, 14 jurors took their seats to hear the case of two charges against former Sheriff Kent Harris. In this case specifically, Harris is charged with criminal simulation and theft over $1,000.
After months out on bond, it's down to days for a verdict on two charges against former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris. Harris is accused of stealing on the job, at least that's what District Attorney Tony Clark told the jury he intends to prove.
Clark told jurors friends of Harris donated two cars to the sheriff's department. "There was a purchase order or inquisition order or a memo from the sheriff's office, signed by the sheriff, sent to the mayor's office requesting $4,500 be paid for those two cars," Clark said in his opening statement.
Prosecutors said they will show beyond a reasonable doubt the money left the county purse and went into the hands of the former sheriff; never to be returned. "That money was never, according to witnesses, was never put back into the account dealing with the sheriff's department," Clark added.
The defense claimed those cars were not donated, but they were sold to the county for far less than the cars were worth, and those funds were used to raise money intended to train bloodhounds to be search and rescue dogs for the county. "The sheriff says, 'I'll tell you what. Why don't you sell them to the county for a nominal price, $4,500, and we'll use that money to train the pup,'" said defense attorney Stacy Street.
Street also told jurors the money was kept locked in the sheriff office's safe, and that when the dogs became too costly to train and too old to keep Harris used the money to pay for a bloodhound rescue to keep and care for them; Street says that was because without the money, the organization could not afford to keep them.
"They [prosecutors] want you to think this man [Harris] would risk the job he loved for $4,500," Street said as he concluded his opening argument.
After the opening statements, the state called two witnesses from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood believes the trial should wrap up by the end of the week.