Ohio man sentenced to life in prison for murder of woman in Kentucky

An Ohio man convicted of the 2005 murder of a woman at Fort Knox Military Base was sentenced to life in prison Friday in Paducah, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky.

Judge Thomas B. Russell sentenced 49-year-old Ernest Smith of Toledo, Ohio, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Jan. 7, 2005, murder of Cathy Barnett on the Fort Knox grounds. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Russell had previously admitted robbing and shooting a man named James Dillingham in Toledo on Jan. 3 of that year, and that it’s believed Barnett was there when that murder happened.

The two left Toledo together, and the attorney’s office says Smith decided to kill Barnett because she witnessed the murder. It says Smith first tried to break Barnett’s neck, and then beat her on the head with a tree branch until he knew she was dead. Smith left Barnett’s body in the woods on the Fort Knox Grounds. 

In late 2010, Smith spoke with his former parole officer, Dan Van Vorhis, who asked Smith what happened to Barnett.  Over the course of several recorded conversations, Smith told Van Vorhis the details of her murder. Smith also identified where Barnett’s remains would be found. The Federal Bureau of Investigation found Barnett’s remains on the grounds of Fort Knox, in the wooded area the attorney’s office says was identified by Smith.

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