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Testimony set to begin in retrial of ex-El Paso County sheriff Terry Maketa on corruption charges

Author: Lance Benzel, The Gazette - January 25, 2018 - Updated: January 25, 2018

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Former El Paso County Sheriff Terry MaketaFormer El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa

Testimony will begin Thursday in the retrial of ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa on corruption charges after two days of jury selection.

A panel of eight women and six men, including two alternates, will hear allegations left unresolved by a mistrial in July that ended in partial deadlock – again raising the prospect of one of the county’s best-known lawmen ending up a felon.

If convicted of extortion, the most serious counts against him, Maketa, 53, would be facing up to six years in prison.

Testimony is expected to last two weeks. Opening statements will be heard when court resumes at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

The process of picking a jury began Tuesday morning with a pool of 90 people, who filled out questionnaires asking what they knew of Maketa and what they remembered of media coverage thus far – a source of concern for the defense, which has argued that the former sheriff would be unable to get an unbiased panel in El Paso County.

But hours of questioning over two days turned up little evidence the panel had been influenced by news accounts. Although many people said they recall hearing or reading news about Maketa, few showed a command of the allegations against him, and others acknowledged they had misremembered details or else conflated the criminal case with civil claims lodged against him by people under his command. Everyone who ended up on the panel pledged to set aside any preconceived notions and to decide the case on the evidence.

At one point, as a judge read from a list of witnesses who will testify at trial, just two people out of roughly 70 said they recognized the name of El Paso County’s current sheriff, Bill Elder, who will testify in the case as attorneys probe allegations against Maketa.

Maketa, a former three-term sheriff once floated by El Paso County Republicans as a candidate for higher office, is accused of a variety of criminal acts, all involving claims that he abused his power to punish subordinates and political rivals.

Two extortion counts against him allege that Maketa threatened to terminate a $5.2 million-per-year contract unless a jail health care contractor fired a woman who refused his request to help an ally’s campaign for sheriff. He is also charged with two misdemeanor counts of official misconduct, alleging that he pursued a potentially career-ending sanction against deputies under his command – one for supporting Elder’s bid for sheriff, the other for pondering his own run for sheriff, authorities say.

The jury at Maketa’s previous trial acquitted him on separate allegations that he tried to intimidate a domestic violence victim into changing her story after she accused a personal friend of Maketa’s of assaulting her. When she complied, she was jailed for making false statements, the woman previously testified. Those claims will not be aired a second time.

Lance Benzel, The Gazette

Lance Benzel, The Gazette