Thursday, February 07, 2002

Kidnapping added to murder charge

Florence man suspect in death of landlady, 59

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — Forensic evidence has led Boone County prosecutors to seek an additional charge of capital kidnapping against a 29-year-old accused of killing his landlady over a disputed phone bill.

        Sandra Kay Roberts, 59, of Florence was still alive when she was driven from her Florence home to a rural Gallatin County farm where her body was burned, according to court records.

        That revelation led a Boone County judge Wednesday to arraign Shawn Ernst, 29, of Florence, on the additional charge of capital kidnapping, which is punishable by death.

        He was already charged with murder, tampering with physical evidence and abuse of a corpse.

        Police have previously testified that the dispute led Mr. Ernst to strangle Mrs. Roberts in early April 2000, taking her body to a Gallatin County farm and using lighter fluid to ignite her body.

        Mr. Ernst, though, has said that his landlady merely collapsed in front of him and died.

        After Mr. Ernst was arrested on the murder charge, authorities charged him with attempted murder for allegedly trying to kill his former fiancee's toddler. Prosecutors claim he tried to force the toddler to drink antifreeze in late 1999.

        He is also charged with second-degree assault in connection with skull fractures the boy received and criminal abuse.

        Mr. Ernst had rented a room from Ms. Roberts after his former fiancee left him and moved out of state with her son. He had lived with Ms. Roberts only a few weeks before she was killed.

        Ms. Roberts decided to rent a room to him as an extra source of income.

        Mr. Ernst remained in the Boone County Jail Wednesday in lieu of $100,000 cash bond.


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