SOMERSET, Ky. (AP) _ Prosecutors on Thursday accused a cocaine dealer of masterminding the murder of a drug-fighting sheriff, saying the defendant was responsible for the crime ``just the same as if he had pulled that trigger.''

Defense attorneys, however, said Kenneth White only helped in the political campaign of another sheriff candidate.

The remarks came at the opening of White's trial on charges of complicity to murder in the April 13, 2002, killing of Sheriff Sam Catron.

Catron, 48, a soft-spoken man who lived with his elderly mother and earned a pilot's license so he could fly a helicopter in search of marijuana fields, was shot minutes after delivering a campaign speech in Shopville.

Commonwealth's Attorney Eddie Montgomery said White, 56, wanted Catron out of the race and recruited Danny Shelley, a drug-addicted ex-Marine, to shoot Catron with a rifle.

``Kenneth White is a murderer just the same as if he had pulled that trigger,'' Montgomery said.

Jeff Morris, a former deputy of Catron's who was also running for sheriff, and Shelley, who was aiding Morris' campaign, have already pleaded guilty and were sentenced to life in prison.

Both are expected to testify against White at trial. They have said White came up with the plan to kill Catron, and they went along with it because they feared him.

Defense attorney David Hoskins said White's involvement with the two was through Morris' campaign, an effort White joined because the deputy had once assisted in a family emergency.

``This is something that Jeff Morris and Danny Shelley cooked up,'' Hoskins said.

Shelley was arrested when he lost control of a motorcycle that witnesses saw speeding away from the shooting scene. The motorcycle belonged to Morris.

Montgomery said White was bankrolling Morris' campaign.