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Open letter of thanks to the people of Trimble County

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Letters to the Editor

Editor:          

For the past four years my family and I have been engaged in a family tragedy that took place in your county.  My brother, Steven Michael Jones was murdered near the Ohio River in Milton, Ky. The case is now closed, due to the excellent professional work by Trimble County public servants.

Without the “old school” methods of sleuth John Landreth, (Richmond resident and private investigator for 38 years) we would not have learned the facts that led to the recovery of my brother’s body.  As John, who specializes in finding missing persons told me, “Pam, there is one thing worse than a dead son for your mother…and that is a missing son.”

John searched for my brother, following every lead, going every place my brother had been. He went door to door showing my mother’s photograph saying, “This sweet 78 year old mother is looking for her son, Steve, 56, her son calls her every day to say he loves her and then one day, the phone calls stopped.”

I am told that professional law enforcement and local officials do not usually “interact well” with outside private detectives.  This was not the case between private detective John Landreth, Madison City Police Department Capt. Terry Wells and Detective Jeremy Perkins, Kentucky State Police Detective Todd Harwood and Trimble County Sheriff Tim Coons. They collaborated.

Crimes that involve two states and three counties are not easy.  My brother was killed in Trimble County. The truck used to move my brother’s body to a remote location in Trimble County was burned and found in Clark County, Ind. Evidence from cleaning up of the crime scene was disposed of in Henry County. Cooperation among law enforcement was the key factor in finding my brother’s body and arresting Clester E. “Cletus” Mullins of Milton.

“I have never had this kind of cooperation,” Landreth told me. “All the authorities worked the missing-person case. They treated it very professionally. Without everyone’s help, this case would have never been solved,” Landreth said.

For my family, we owe a special thanks to Kentucky State Detective Todd Harwood. We are convinced that without Harwood’s superb skills and knowledge of the evidence Mullins would not have confessed to the murder. Mullins took Harwood and his team to the remote ravine where he left my brother’s body. Without Harwood my brother’s body would never have been found.  My mother would never have had peace. Harwood secured hard evidence, managing every detail to ensure justice was done. 

And yet even that would not have been enough. Without Prosecutor Barry Moore’s expert, thorough and comprehensive management of the evidence Mullins would not have pleaded guilty to the murder.  After Mullins killed my brother he committed and was convicted of a related crime, the complexity was compounded, causing difficult delays for the Trimble County team. Closing this case required top quality skills and careful management of the facts; expertly handled by Prosecutor Barry Moore. We are forever grateful.

And then there is the Trimble County Sheriff Tim Coons who assisted Detective Harwood in the investigation. While I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of law enforcement, I do know that all crimes are local. They happen in small towns and neighborhoods. Crimes do not get solved unless there is professional handling of all evidence and persons involved. Someone must know the citizens of the county and connect the dots. Sheriff Coons played an important role in the investigation. In the past three years he offered kindness and respect to my mother and our family during this trauma. 

On the day of the sentencing I witnessed a community of professionals unlike anything I have ever seen. Chief Circuit Judge Karen A. Conrad, set the stage for an efficient handling of an emotionally difficult day with very high stakes.  She dotted all the “I’s” and crossed all the “T’s.” Every person knew their role and every person knew the day was to be handled with the tone and professionalism established by Judge Conrad. Every person in that courtroom, Judge Conrad, Victims’ advocate Teresa Leet, the clerk of the court, the bailiffs, Sheriff Coons, the troopers, Detective Harwood, Prosecutor Moore and the defense attorneys treated each other with mutual respect exhibiting confidence in each other’s skills, meticulous attention to details and compassion for both the defendant and the family of the victim. Judge Conrad said she hoped our family and Mullins might find some closure after the sentencing. “Everyone must move forward,” she said. “It’s a very difficult process.”

It was in fact, an extremely difficult day. In a hushed courtroom I watched the face to face encounters as the impact statements of my nephew, niece and mother were heard by everyone in the court room. My brother’s son, Ezekiel, daughter Autumn, eleven year old granddaughter Veda and 82 year old mother, Grace described how they felt about losing Steve. I listened to the defendant, Mullins, apologize to the family and express regret for what his own children now face. Only the fact that my mother sat steadfast in the face of this tragedy exhibiting courage beyond understanding was I able to remain in that courtroom. I was not the only person in that room holding back tears; even the most experienced professionals and macho men of Trimble County had a difficult day that morning.

And yet with all of this emotion and gratitude to the professional talent that closed this sad crime story, there is one unsung heroine. She is my inspirations for writing this letter. Her name is Teresa Leet.

Teresa Leet is the victims advocate for Trimble County. I have learned that as a victim advocate Teresa has knowledge and skills in criminal justice, social services, domestic violence, sexual abuse and experience in working with individuals going through traumatic circumstances. 

Teresa ensures that every victim (or in case of murder, families like mine) is treated with respect, understands their legal rights and is supported with the services they need. In other cases involving domestic violence and sexual abuse there are even more complex issues that require skills and experience beyond my comprehension. She handles more than 200 cases at any given time.  That is a “lot” of personal conversations, phone calls and letters describing complicated issues in everyday language and offering critical services for people in need, many of them are abused children and their families.  

Can you imagine the emotional impact of each of these conversations? Just the conversations in my family alone overwhelmed me with sadness, confusion, questions and concerns for how other family members would be able to handle this tragedy. Teresa explained each step of the legal process with understandable logic. Teresa supported my family for four years; always patiently explaining what was next. She was steady, calm and compassionate. Teresa reassured us that the victims advocate program would help the family heal. She was right. My mother and niece left that courtroom with more peace of mind and emotional well-being than when they entered; because they had Teresa literally by their side.

So if you are one of the lucky people who live in Trimble County you are fortunate indeed to have such wonderful public servants in your communities. I wanted you to know how grateful the family of Steven Michael Jones is for the services your professionals provided during this traumatic time.

And if you know any of the folks mentioned in this letter please thank them today for what they do. I am sure they don’t hear thank you enough for the very tough work they do every day. Support them and provide resources for their work. 

And one personal request, if you know Teresa, send her a note, take her to lunch, offer her flowers or just say thank you. Clearly she has an extremely difficult job. You have an amazing talent in your community who is helping people heal after very traumatic experiences, very quietly, without fanfare, serving the community. Please support her as she continues to help others.

With gratitude to the Trimble County team,

Pamela Jones, on behalf of Steve Jones’ family from Florida

p.s. We found our missing loved one in your community and you offered friendship, healing and closure.  For that we will be forever grateful. Louisville made us feel welcome; it became our home base, to the people of Louisville we send a special thank you.