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County seeing huge early voter turnout

Early voting numbers will certainly surpass those cast during the 2016 General Election, county clerk David Shelton announced on Friday.

Shelton said as of Friday afternoon, county election employees had recorded more than 3,100 in-person early ballots since early voting began on Oct. 6.

The total number of in-person early ballots cast four years ago, during the last U.S. Presidential Election, was 3,442 — just 342 votes more than those counted so far on Friday.

“So I anticipate that by the end of early voting (today), we will have eclipsed that total,” Shelton said, “and still with more than six days (of early voting) to go.”

Given the 3,100 ballots cast as of noon Friday, an average of 220 people are voting early per day, which Shelton said is about double daily numbers recorded four years ago.

And despite what many thought would be an increased number of absentee ballots, Shelton said those actually appear to be down from the General Election four years ago — about 200 total ballots less, he added.

The deadline to request an absentee (or mail-in) ballot passed at midnight on Thursday; Shelton received a total of 2,241, and the majority of those have already been sent out.

So far, the county has a return rate of about 80%.

“So we only have a few hundred still out there, Shelton said.

Shelton earlier predicted that the county could see as many as 5,000 early votes cast this year, or 20% of Knox County’s more than 24,000 registered voters.

When the number of mail-in ballots requested is added to in-person votes cast so far — he was right, even short by more than 300 votes.

But despite the heavy workload this election season, Shelton said everything is going well.

In effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, early voting is set up inside the old sally port jail, located at Knox County Community Corrections, at 135 N. Eighth St.

Voters are met with hand sanitizer and even Q-tips to use when touching the machines, if they wish. The machines, too, are cleaned after every use.

Early voting continues through noon on Nov. 2.

Early voters can cast ballots from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday — Friday and 8:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and again on Saturday, Oct. 31.

Local races this election season include the county council’s three at-large seats.

Incumbent councilmen Harry Noting and David Culp, both Republicans, will be on the ballot as will newcomer Dan Reitmeyer, who, as a Democrat, made an unsuccessful bid for the District 1 county council seat currently held by Randy Crismore in November of 2018.

Reitmeyer is now running as a Republican.

And rounding out the four candidates will be Kevin Meyer, the county council’s lone Democrat, as he plans to seek election to his at-large seat as well.

He was appointed to the seat in December after former councilman Tim Crowley announced his resignation.

Meyer previously served one term as a county commissioner from 2009-12.

Knox County Coroner Brian Hagen, a Democrat, faces Republican newcomer Karen Donovan.

And rounding out the November county races, Republican Cendy Joslin, a former county treasurer, is challenging incumbent treasurer Brenda Hall, a Democrat.

For more information on this year’s General Election, contact the county election office at 812-895-4927.

Local man arrested for murder

Knox County police early Friday morning arrested a local man on a charge of murder.

Sheriff Doug Vantlin said police responded to 2833 S. Old U.S. 41 shortly after 2 a.m. to a report of a vehicle having crashed through the front porch of a home.

The passenger in that vehicle, C.C. Lee Cochran, 44, of Lawrenceville, Illinois, was standing in the front yard, according to a press release issued by the county Friday morning.

Police entered the home and found another man, Christopher Anderson, 30, previously of Lawrenceville, Illinois, but now a Knox County resident, the sheriff said, unresponsive on the living room floor.

Vantlin said Anderson had suffered multiple “deep lacerations,” ones police determined were not caused by the crash.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Vantlin said after the two men crashed into the home, Anderson was able to get out and walk up to the front door to seek help.

“He had knocked on the door and got in,” Vantlin said. “Once inside, he fell to the floor, and they started to render aid to him as best they could.”

There were four people inside the home at the time of the incident, the sheriff said, but none were injured.

As for the number of lacerations, where they were located on Anderson’s body or what kind of weapon caused them, Vantlin said he couldn’t yet say.

“Those are the things I can’t answer right now,” the sheriff said. “We are knee deep in this investigation right now, and I don’t want to upset the apple cart too much.”

Cochran was initially arrested on a charge of manslaughter, but Vantlin said Friday morning that that had been upgraded to murder.

Police, too, are awaiting an official cause of death; an autopsy has been scheduled, the sheriff said, for early next week.

Knox County police hours before also responded to a fatal accident on Indiana 67.

Russell E. Perkins, 53, was pronounced dead following a single-vehicle accident just before 7 p.m. on Indiana 67 just north of Westphalia near Wagner Road.

Police say Perkins was driving a 2015 GMC pickup truck northbound on Indiana 67 when, for unknown reasons, he went left of center, left the roadway on the west side and rolled several times. Perkins was ejected from the truck.

That investigation, too, is ongoing.

• • •

Vincennes police also continue to investigate an incident outside a downtown home on Oct. 13 that left one man with a gunshot wound to the chest and an Oaktown man, 30-year-old John Daley, in jail on an initial charge of attempted murder.

That charge, however, has been downgraded to aggravated battery, a Level 3 felony, according to updated court documents filed in Knox County Circuit Court.

Officers with the Vincennes Police Department just before 9 p.m. were dispatched to 704 Hart St. where they found a man sitting on the front porch with a single gunshot wound to the chest. Police say he was up and talking; the wound was to the center of his chest, and there was an exit wound on his back, according to court documents.

The victim, who is not identified, was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital then, later, taken to Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, police said.

He told police that Daley shot him with a .45 caliber handgun during an argument.

Police said earlier that Daley shares a child with the woman who rents the apartment there. The child wasn’t, however, reportedly there at the time of the shooting.

Daley, who police initially thought fled, was located between that apartment and another adjacent one. He remains in jail on a $75,000 cash-only bond.

The victim has since been released from the hospital and returned home, police say.

The pursuit of justice

Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final installment in a series looking at domestic violence in Knox County. This week we take a closer look at what it takes to prosecute these crimes. You met “Bridget,” a local victim of domestic violence, in Part 3. Her real name is being withheld to protect her anonymity.

If it’s so bad, why doesn’t she just leave?

Enduring more than 30 years of emotional and physical abuse from her husband, Bridget heard that refrain time and again.

But the very moment a person summons the courage to leave a violent relationship is the moment they become most vulnerable, facing the very real danger of being murdered by their intimate partner.

A study from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority indicated that nearly half of all murdered women were killed as they attempted to leave their partners.

Yet despite years of self-esteem-killing degradation and the very real threat of death, Bridget did summon the courage to leave.

While that first step is immensely courageous, the story for survivors doesn’t end there. Instead, it begins a new battle they must fight — oftentimes in a courtroom.

Melissa Haaff, director of Hope’s Voice, an organization that looks to assist victims of domestic violence, indicates this fight is lopsided, with the victim often left without justice.

“If a woman comes forward it’s like ‘what did she do that caused her to be assaulted.’ That stigma is still there. Then, when she finally tells her story to the local authorities, nothing happens to her abuser,” Haaff said.

A national study conducted by “Psychology Today” in 2014 found that less than 10% of domestic violence cases are prosecuted.

And, just as grim, the study found that no more than 2% of abusers ever served any jail time beyond the initial 24-48 hour “cooling off period” enforced by most states.

Haaff said this lack of penalty or accountability leads to real concerns for the survivors.

Inside his office on North Seventh Street, Dirk Carnahan combs through the pages of a 2,500-word document he has compiled, one soon be used as a handout for survivors of domestic violence.

Subtitled “It Can be a Long Journey,” the guide sets out to provide a list of resources for the men and women who have been violated by their partners and a summary of the legal process they face.

Part of that is an explanation of why the justice system often doesn’t provide the closure sought after by those who have been so viciously wronged.

As Knox County’s prosecuting attorney, Carnahan regularly meets survivors of domestic violence at a time of great vulnerability, and though he wants to offer them justice, sometimes that simply isn’t possible.

“The toughest part of being a prosecutor is knowing that there are times when a person has been victimized and there is little or nothing we can do,” he said.

There are constraints, he said, within which he must operate.

First, the American justice system is designed to ensure an innocent person is never wrongly convicted of a crime. As a result, the burden of proof is placed on the prosecution.

And sometimes, said Carnahan, even when it seems someone is clearly guilty, he may not be able to prosecute due to deficiencies in the investigation or problems with the strength of the case, among other reasons.

These weaknesses in cases and investigations, he added, occur for a whole host of reasons.

Due to the trauma of a violent event, survivors can easily confuse details of the assault; witnesses often disappear and memories fade over time.

These difficulties are also compounded, said Carnahan, by the fact that abusers often target those who are already most vulnerable. Some survivors may be very young or very old, have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol or may be living with physical or mental disabilities.

In other instances, there could be important evidence that may not be admissible in court. Other times, an individual may have clearly done something morally or ethically wrong, but the behavior doesn’t fit under the exact definition of a specific crime.

“Prosecutors have very strict laws and rules to follow,” Carnahan said. “These rules limit who can be charged with a crime and what constitutes a crime.”

“Filing a charge that we know we can’t prove is unethical. Filing a charge that most likely will result in a not guilty verdict often causes more damage to a victim or survivor than not filing the charge,” he added.

Still, Carnahan contends that the way he chooses to proceed — such as determining whether or not a case can be mounted at all or pursuing a plea deal instead — is based on the best interest of the victim, even if it’s a move not understood by the survivor.

“No survivor is served by being drug through a process that will end in acquittal,” he said.

Acknowledging the deep frustration survivors feel when their case isn’t prosecuted, Carnahan said he and others in his office are equally frustrated.

“I wouldn’t have ever taken this job if I didn’t want to pursue justice,” he said.

For the small percentage of domestic violence cases filed in Knox County, there is still a long road.

With only three courts in the county — all of which handle everything from criminal cases to custody battles and traffic violations — the courts’ calendars are overwhelmingly full.

With more cases than court dates, “If all cases had to be resolved by trial, the bottleneck would limit the system to resolving only 20 or 30 cases per year,” Carnahan noted.

Nearly all domestic violence cases taken up by prosecutors end with plea agreements, and Carnahan argues that — despite popular opinion — a plea deal can be a good thing.

“The truth is that a plea agreement usually provides an outcome that is very similar to what would have happened following a trial,” he said.

“A plea agreement avoids the risk of the unpredictability that comes with a jury trial. A plea agreement provides closure and an admission of guilt from the defendant,” he said.

The extremely rare cases that do make it to trial are left in the hands of twelve jurors, and if the defendant is found guilty, sentencing is left in the hands of the judge.

After sentencing of the abuser, survivors are still sometimes left feeling as if justice has not been served, citing lenient sentences as one primary reason.

“Judges are bound by sentencing laws and by legal theories that are not always understood by survivors. Sentences can be far more lenient than what a survivor had hoped,” said Carnahan.

A two-year review of domestic violence cases by the U.S. Bureau of Justice found that the average sentence for this group of violent offenders was just 5 years.

However, that number also included the sentences for even the the most heinous of domestic violence offenses — brutal beatings, rape, assault against minors and even murder of an intimate partner.

Yet there is still hope for survivors.

Over the years, laws and policies across the nation have changed in an effort to better protect and support survivors of domestic violence.

For instance, a new state law protects child victims from being forced to give a deposition, and processes have been streamlined so that survivors don’t have to relive the event by giving multiple statements.

Too, advocacy organizations like Hope’s Voice have cropped up across the nation and are there to stand with those who have been abused.

The staff at Hope’s Voice want survivors to know that there is no shame in acknowledging an abusive relationship or seeking help when they’re ready.

“Call us anytime — reach out when you can. We believe you and we will support you,” said Haaff.

Those in need can call Hope’s Voice at 812-886-4470 during regular business hours. Their crisis hotline, staffed 24 hours per day, can be reached at 812-899-4673.

For more information about Hope’s Voice and upcoming Domestic Violence Awareness Month events, visit their Facebook page.