Butch Morgan election fraud trial begins

The election fraud trial of St. Joseph County’s former Democratic Party chairman began today with jury selection.

Together, Owen “Butch” Morgan and co-defendant Dustin Blythe face a total of 14 counts, including forgery.

Four Democrats were originally accused of forging signatures needed to get Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Indiana’s 2008 Primary Election ballot. Beverly Shelton and Pam Brunette pleaded guilty and are expected to testify.

Wearing a suit, an orange shirt and no tie, Morgan seemed to be relaxed and in good spirits in the courtroom. He occasionally chuckled as he chatted with his defense attorneys and his co-defendant.

Morgan’s was already a familiar face for some of the 50 plus potential jurors bought in for questioning today. “The guy, the one guy, the Butch guy, I can’t remember his last name: He used to work at the “Y” and he helped me out, get a membership there,” said unsuccessful jury candidate Dave Laskin of South Bend. “I think he’s a nice guy, I mean, I’m just telling you the truth.”

At one point, Special Prosecutor Stan Levco proded jurors to see if they thought the charges were a “big deal” given that the elections were over five years ago, and that President Obama has since won re-election.

When the first 14 potential jury candidates asked how many voted in the 2008 Primary Election, about half appeared to raise their hands.

Testimony is expected to start Tuesday morning with the case projected to be in the hands of the jury sometime Thursday.

When Morgan resigned in October of 2011, a written statement read: “Butch Morgan has done nothing wrong and did not personally authorize, direct or condone the forgery or alteration of petition signatures. Furthermore, he intends to vigorously oppose any claim of wrongdoing but does not want this ongoing controversy to hurt the party that he cares so much about.”

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