March 7, 2014
The Taney County Prosecuting Attorney announced that on Thursday, March 6, 2014, MEGAN M. KAHNERT, d/o/b: 03-23-1992, of Branson West, Missouri, entered an Alford plea of guilty to the class B felony of robbery in the second degree. There was no plea agreement as to what sentence Kahnert will receive. Circuit Court Judge Mark Orr scheduled formal sentencing for April 17, 2014.
“An Alford plea is akin to a plea of ‘no contest’,” says Taney County Prosecutor Jeff Merrell, “in that the defendant agrees that the State has sufficient evidence to convict her, if the case went to trial. The defendant in such a plea may still avoid admitting responsibility for her crime, though.”
On the night of September 11, 2013, Kahnert was with a male, sitting in an automobile in a parking lot at Branson Landing. A woman who had just left work was getting into her car to drive home, when the male approached the woman, threatened her with a gun, and stole her purse. After being identified as a suspect in the robbery some months later, Kahnert was contacted by Branson Police, but she refused to cooperate with officers. The male, who was with Kahnert during the robbery, was identified by the victim as having been the man who stole her purse. When questioned by police, the man confessed to robbing the victim and – along with Kahnert – spending the money from the stolen purse. Kahnert was on probation in Stone County for misdemeanor stealing when she committed this felony offense.
Robbery in the second degree is a class B felony. The range of punishment for a class B felony is not less than five (5) years in prison and not more than fifteen (15) years in prison.
February 21, 2014
JAMES I. WARREN (d/o/b: 6-09-1983), of Merriam Woods, Missouri, pleaded guilty on Thursday, February 20, 2014, to the class C felonies of burglary in the second degree and stealing, for a break-in he committed in July of 2010. Taney County Circuit Court Judge Mark Orr scheduled Warren’s sentencing for April 17, 2014. Taney County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Merrell says that his office and the defendant have no agreement about what sentence Warren will receive.
Between July 19th and July 21st of 2010, a home at 130 Huntington Drive, in Branson, was burglarized and several items of property were stolen from inside. Taney County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene, investigated, and found a broken window with blood and fingerprints on it. Samples were taken of the blood on the broken window and sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab for testing. The DNA from a blood sample was found to be the same as someone who’s DNA was already on file with the State’s database of criminal offenders – specifically, James I. Warren. Despite the DNA evidence linking Warren to the crime, it was not until Warren was held in custody for missing a trial date that he finally entered a guilty plea.
Burglary in the second degree and felony stealing are both class C felonies, normally carrying a maximum sentence of seven (7) years in prison and/or a $5,000.00 fine. However, Warren is charged as a prior and persistent felony offender, enhancing his maximum sentence for each count to fifteen (15) years in prison.
February 14, 2014
KEVIN D. JOHNSTON, d/o/b 1-20-1959, of Kirbyville, was sentenced on Thursday, February 13, 2014, to eight (8) years in the Missouri Department of Corrections for the class B felony of driving while intoxicated. Taney County Circuit Court Judge Mark Orr sentenced Johnston after hearing arguments from both the defense and the Taney County Prosecutor’s Office, as there was no plea agreement as to what sentence Johnston would receive.
On December 18, 2013, Johnston appeared before Judge Orr and entered a guilty plea in one case to driving while intoxicated and driving with a revoked license for an arrest on May 8, 2013, initiated by a Hollister Police Officer Bobby Smith. During the course of the traffic stop by Officer Smith, it was apparent that Johnston had been drinking. Because Johnston refused to take the field sobriety tests, as well as the breath test, Officer Smith applied for a search warrant to draw Johnston’s blood. Upon acquiring the signed warrant, two vials of Johnston’s blood were drawn – thirty (30) minutes apart – and sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime lab for testing. Johnston’s blood-alcohol content was determined to be in excess of 0.20% (0.08% is the level of presumed intoxication in Missouri).
“I want to give special recognition and thanks Officer Smith and paramedic Matthew Aumiller with the Taney County Ambulance District for going the extra-mile to obtain the most-important evidence available to us to prove this case: the defendant’s blood,” said Taney County Prosecutor Jeff Merrell. “It takes extra time and effort to get the search warrant, but the blood draw provides us with the evidence necessary to get drunk drivers to plead guilty – which is a huge savings to taxpayers.”
Driving while intoxicated, as a first offense, is normally a class B misdemeanor, and handled by the Associate Circuit Courts. However, because Johnston had four or more intoxication-related traffic offenses, he was charged with a class B felony for being a “chronic” D.W.I. offender. The range of punishment for a class B felony is not less than five (5) years in prison and not more than fifteen (15) years in prison. However, Johnston was charged as a prior and persistent felony offender, enhancing his possible maximum prison sentence to thirty (30) years. Johnston was sentenced to eight (8) years for driving while intoxicated, and four (4) years for a driving with a revoked license charge. Those sentences were ordered by the court to be concurrent.
February 14, 2014
On Thursday, February 13, 2014, in the Circuit Court of Taney County, AMBER ASKINS, d/o/b 3-30-1994, of Branson, entered pleas of guilty to multiple felonies, including burglary in the first degree relating to the abuse of several horses on a farm in Hollister. Askins was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Mark Orr to seven (7) years in the Missouri Department of Corrections for burglary in the first degree, as well as one (1) year in the county jail for the class A misdemeanor of conspiracy to commit animal abuse.
Around July 27, 2012, a man who was keeping watch on his daughter’s horses noticed there were cuts on the horses, and the horses showed signs of being saddled improperly. Detective Dan Luttrell, of the Taney County Sheriff’s Office responded to the farm in Hollister, and set up a game camera to catch the suspects. The owner of the horses also spent the night in her barn where the horses were kept, in an attempt to catch the suspects who were abusing her horses. On August 4, 2012, Taney County deputies received a call for help to the Hollister address and arrived at the barn. The owner explained that she had seen Askins and other individuals entering the barn. One of the men was seen with a large knife. Video evidence from the game camera footage confirmed the owner’s description of events.
Chris Miles previously pleaded guilty for his role in the burglary and animal abuse conspiracy. Multiple other defendants are awaiting trial relating to this crime.
The maximum sentence for the class B felony of burglary in the first degree is fifteen (15) years in prison. In addition to the charges relating to the abuse of the horses, Askins pleaded guilty to the class D felony of failure to appear and the class D felony of damage to jail property. For each of those charges, Askins received the maximum prison sentence of four (4) years.
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