KNOX COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Embattled Knox County Coroner Karen Donovan avoided jail time while pleading guilty to a felony charge of possession of meth Tuesday morning.
A change of plea hearing was held at 9 a.m. in Knox County, during which Karen Donovan appeared before Judge Brian M. Johnson.
Knox County Prosecutor, Dirk Carnahan said, “She plead guilty to the felony possession of meth charge.”
Donovan accepted a plea agreement that included a joint sentencing recommendation that would allow her to serve 18 months of probation along with some community service while an 18-month jail sentence was suspended.
“But that sentence is suspended on the condition that she be on probation and follow all of the terms of probation. Which includes getting an evaluation by the courts drug and alcohol program and following through with all recommendations there. Paying certain monthly fees, obeying all the rules of probation, staying out of trouble, that kind of thing. If she violates the terms of her probation, then she could serve her entire 18 months in jail,” Carnahan said.
Donovan had been facing a level 6 felony charge of possession of meth and a class A misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance. As part of the deal, the misdemeanor charge was dropped.
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Donovan must avoid CBD products while under probation. Additionally Donovan will be required to complete 80 hours of community service and obtain an evaluation from a health provider for drug or alcohol treatment and follow recommendations of the provider.
As for the official misconduct charge from initial reports? Carnahan said that would have been difficult to prove.
“Official misconduct means that while you’re officially conducting your job, you commit a crime,” Carnahan said. “As coroner, the possession of meth is not necessarily a crime. Because at crime scenes she’s allowed to collect evidence. Now, she’s supposed to give it to law enforcement at the time, but that could be difficult to prove that that is official misconduct. The methamphetamine was found in her home so it would be really hard to argue that possessing the meth in her home was done while she was conducting her job as the coroner.”
Carnahan went on to say that due to technical, legal questions about that official misconduct charge, they dismissed the charge as part of the plea. “But she couldn’t get punishment for one charge stacked on top of the other one, so we really didn’t give up anything by dismissing that.”
The big question Carnahan said everyone is asking?
“What does it mean with her job? Frankly, she’s going to have a felony conviction so that means she is no longer eligible to hold office, so that should resolve that question pretty quickly,” he said.
WTWO spoke on the phone with Knox County Clerk and Republican Party Chairman, David Shelton Tuesday afternoon. Shelton said according to Indiana code, the office of the Knox County Coroner is now vacant.
Shelton noted that Chief Deputy Coroner, Joe Millstaugh is now the acting Knox County Coroner. Shelton will call a caucus within the next 30 days to select the next coroner. That person will take office for the remainder of the term which ends on December 31, 2024.