Davis Motor Sales banner ad

dearmond 300WESTERN KENTUCKY (12/15/13) ― The sentencing of a Muhlenberg man, who pled guilty to the 1997 capital murder of a Muhlenberg County teenager, is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. After 17 years, opening up the case to the nation's highest court also opens old wounds for those who believe the death penalty sentence was a matter of justice being served.

Greenville Mayor Ed DeArmond was operations LT for the Kentucky State Police Post 2 at the time of the murder of 16-year-old Muhlenberg South High School student Sarah Hansen. The veteran police officer and military veteran said the murder case will forever haunt his memory not only because of its heinous nature but also because the victim and her family were his friends.

“I got a call that night that a body was found,” DeArmond told SurfKY. “(The scene) was just a few minutes from my home so I went there. Eddie Perry was there keeping people out, and I asked what the situation was. He told me that they had found the body of Sarah Hansen. I knew her and her family.”

Hansen's body was found at Luzerne Lake in Greenville on the night of Jan. 25, 1997 after her family had alerted police that she didn't return home from renting a video at the nearby Minit Mart in Greenville.

The scene and the victim's vehicle provided physical evidence including DNA.

“We started taking interviews, following any leads we could and gathering evidence,” said DeArmond. “We knew we were searching for a certain brand of (men's) shoe based on a piece of evidence we found at the scene.”

A massive manhunt began through a joint investigation by KSP, Greenville Police and the Muhlenberg County Sheriff's Office from command headquarters set up at the Greenville Police Department, said DeArmond.

Investigators searched dumpsters near the crime scene for garments or shoes that the murderer might have been wearing and questioned several possible suspects. Among those was Robert Keith Woodall, then 22.

“Woodall had an attorney and would not answer questions,” DeArmond said. “I was in the other room with prosecutors at the time of his questioning and noticed his shoes matched the ones we were looking  for. I caught him in the hallway and asked if I could look at his shoes. They were indeed identical to the ones we were looking for. I confiscated his shoes.”

DeArmond said investigators began to focus on Woodall, who had been released from prison six months earlier for sexual crimes. Due to his incarceration, Woodall's fingerprints were already on file. KSP lab technicians were brought in with Detective Lt. Mark Mayes in charge of forensics, said DeArmond.

After fingerprints from the van proved to be Woodall's, DeArmond asked then prosecutor David Jernigan for an arrest warrant. Sheriff Jerry Mayhugh and Detective Mike Drake took Woodall for blood analysis to gather more DNA evidence, said DeArmond.

“Once I got the warrants, I read him his rights and briefed the news media,” DeArmond told SurfKY. “I called a midnight press conference rather than waiting until the next morning.”

Due to pretrial publicity, a change of venue was sought and granted for Woodall's trial, which was held in Caldwell County with Judge Bill Cunningham presiding.

Woodall pleaded guilty to kidnapping, rape and murder and was sentenced to death. In Kentucky, the death penalty can only be imposed in capital cases. Murder in addition to either kidnapping or rape constitutes a capital murder.

Over the years, Woodall's attorneys have made numerous appeals.

A U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell in 2009 in which Russell concluded that the judge in the 1998 sentencing should have instructed jurors to disregard the fact that Woodall didn't testify during the trial.

DeArmond believes good judgement will prevail.

Perhaps, the old wounds from a horrible crime will not be opened any farther, he said.

“I don't recall a murder, in all my years in law enforcement, that caused so much pain to just about everyone in the county,” said DeArmond. “I have friends in the Woodall family, too. Everyone was so deeply hurt by this unfortunate incident.”

After the murder, state Rep. Brent Yonts sponsored the Sarah Hanson Act, which was passed into law. The law requires sex offenders to serve their entire sentences and not be granted early release.

The U.S. Supreme Court Justices heard comments from prosecutors and defense attorneys Tuesday. They now must reach a decision to either dispose of Woodall's latest appeal or to instruct jurors to not consider Woodall's silence when recommending a sentence.

A ruling is not expected until at least June.

Rita Dukes Smith
SurfKY News Director
With Contribution by Paul McRee
SurfKY News Reporter
 


© Copyright 2015 SurfKY News Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without permission. SurfKY News encourages you to share this story on social media.

In Other News...

7th District MNHHS Maroons All-District Players Chosen

CALDWELL COUNTY, Ky. (3/1/15) ― The Madisonville Maroons defeated Caldwell County 61-55 to take the 7th District Boys’… Read More

West Broadway Vendor Event, Tag Sale Planned

MADISONVILLE, Ky. (3/1/15) — The Second Annual Relay for Life Vendor and Tag Sale will take place from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.… Read More

Most Read This Week

February 21, 2015 7940

Traffic Advisory for Western Kentucky

in Top News For All Sites by KTC
February 25, 2015 7095

Multi-Agency Investigation Nets Large-Scale Meth…

in Top News For All Sites by Trooper Stu Recke
February 24, 2015 6950

Two Charged in Central City Meth Bust

in Local (Muhlenberg) Top News by Trooper Stu Recke
February 22, 2015 6813

Easter Cuties Pageant in Memory of Shanice Bean

in Top News For All Sites Touching Hopkins by Tammy Holloway, SurfKY News
February 21, 2015 6511

Local Administrators Warn Employees to Watch for…

in Top News For All Sites by Tammy Holloway, SurfKY News
February 25, 2015 6057

New Asian Restaurant Coming to Madisonville

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Gary Gates, SurfKY News

Most Read This Month

February 12, 2015

UPDATE: Name of Pennyrile Fatality Officially…

in Top News For All Sites Touching Hopkins by Doreen Dennis, SurfKY News
February 09, 2015

Police Pursue Man after Fight at Taco Bell

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Madisonville Police Department/Hopkins County Detention Center

Stories Trending Today

February 28, 2015 3320

City's Parking Ordinances to be Strictly Enforced…

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Doreen Dennis, SurfKY News
February 27, 2015 2597

AIRPLAY: Travis Dukes Makes Stop for Jam Session

in Top News For All Sites by Paul McRee, SurfKY News
February 27, 2015 2343

Local Church Hosting Spring Campmeeting

in Video by Gary Gates, SurfKY News
February 28, 2015 1937

Market Commentary - Feb. 28, 2015

in Top News For All Sites by Randall L. Franklin
February 28, 2015 1656

Keeping the Faith - 'The Fewer the Words the…

in General News For All Sites by Ronnie McBrayer
February 28, 2015 1639

UK Athletics to Deepen Investment in Center for…

in General Sports For All Sites by UK Athletics
February 28, 2015 1627

Hooked on Science - 'Scribblebot'

in General News For All Sites by Jason Lindsey
February 28, 2015 1582

Whitfield Meets with American Physical Therapy…

in General News For All Sites by Robert Hankins
February 28, 2015 1539

Happenings, Meetings Listed for Hopkins County

in Hopkins News by Amber Averitt, SurfKY News
March 01, 2015 1333

HCCHS Student Has Unique Eye for Art

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Amber Averitt, SurfKY News