UPDATE: Blythe, Morgan guilty on all counts

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After 3.5 hours of deliberation Thursday, a jury found St. Joseph County's former Democratic Party chairman Butch Morgan and former voter registration office worker Dustin Blythe guilty on all counts.

The men faced several charges after an investigation revealed some 2008 presidential primary petitions were forged.

The jury got the case at 5 p.m. and returned its verdict around 8:30 p.m.

Morgan was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to commit petition fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit forgery.

The jury found Blythe guilty of nine counts of forgery and one count of falsely making a petition of nomination.

"No comment, but thanks for asking," Morgan said as he left the courtroom Thursday night.

Blythe and his lawyer declined to comment, as well.

But, Special Prosecutor Stan Levco called the decision an important victory.

"If it was shoplifting or something like that, it wouldn't be that big of a deal," he said. "Sometimes, these charges aren't relatively a big deal. But, to me, when you talk about an election, there's nothing more sacred in this country than the right to vote."

The day began with the Morgan taking the witness stand in his own defense.

Morgan spent about an hour and a half testifying. One memorable moment involved the day the alleged petition forgery scheme was said to be hatched.

Some former voter registration workers testified earlier that Morgan called them at the office and summoned them to a meeting over the lunch hour.

Morgan pointed out that would be impossible because the day in question, January 21st 2008, was the Martin Luther King holiday and all county offices—including voter registration—were closed.

Morgan testified that he was now unemployed and the caretaker of his mother who was dependent on dialysis.

Butch Morgan suggested that he was also a victim of petition fraud, not a mastermind.

Morgan said his own name is forged at least three times on the nominating petitions that he was reviewed, appearing as Owen B. Morgan when it is really Owen D. Morgan.

When asked if he ever ordered anyone to cheat on the election process, Morgan replied “no.”

The prosecution argued Morgan’s testimony makes it clear someone is lying, either Morgan, or the three former voter registration workers who testified earlier.

The defense theorized that in the hustle and bustle of a presidential election year the voter registration office simply lost some petitions that it had been handed to certify, and that workers came up with a scheme to fix the problem—rather than report it to their boss—Butch Morgan.

Earlier in the trial, Obama and Clinton campaign volunteers who collected signatures legitimately testified that they turned in their petitions locally—only to find out later that those petitions weren’t among those certified and sent downstate.

Morgan and Blythe were both convicted of Class C and Class D felonies.

Class C felonies carry a penalty of two to eight years. Class D felonies carry a sentence of up to three years.

Both men will be sentenced in June.

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