A judge on Tuesday found a former Edwardsville police dispatcher guilty of trying to cover up burglaries committed by a former Edwardsville detective.
Keri Knight cried softly when the judge read the verdict: guilty of two felony counts of obstructing justice. Circuit Judge Kyle Napp convicted Knight following a one-day, non-jury trial. Knight will be sentenced later.
The unseen witness in the trial was the former detective, Brian Barker.
Barker, accused of multiple burglaries and arson was not present on Tuesday when his former girlfriend, Knight, went to trial on charges of obstruction of justice. But in nearly every step of Knight’s case, Barker was the focus.
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Knight, 41, was a dispatcher in the Edwardsville Police Department and a former St. Louis police officer. She was involved in a relationship with Barker, and they were in the process of moving in together when police came to suspect that Barker was responsible for a long string of burglaries of homes and business going back 15 years.
Prosecutors said that a few days before Christmas, a surveillance video at Reality Salon and Spa revealed Barker robbing their cash register while in uniform and armed. Knight and Barker had been living together since May, they said, and when police showed up at their house, Knight gave them consent to search it.
However, prosecutors said that before police showed up, Knight had taken cash, coins, gold bars and bank bags and put them in a gray Rubbermaid tub, which she asked a friend to keep in their home.
Lt. Kristopher Tharp of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department testified that after Barker had posted bail, Knight handed the tub over to police. Tharp was acquainted with Knight going back to high school, and said she was “very upset” and asked him what was going on, not seeming to understand the gravity of the situation. Later, he interviewed Knight when she and her attorney came to the sheriff’s department to turn over the tote.
Defense attorney Bryce Joiner argued that Knight cooperated with police at every step, and in the videotaped interview with Tharp, the officer said the same, that she had been fully cooperative.
“She allowed the officers into her home and let them search without a warrant,” Joiner said. “She led them into the basement, where a thousand pieces of evidence were found. She opened the safe for them. And when she went to the police, she brought evidence to their attention that they didn’t know about and never would have known about... She assisted the prosecution and she didn’t have to.”
Joiner said Knight made “a poor decision, but not a criminal decision.”
“Her only mistake was falling in love with the wrong man, a bad man who deceived her and his own police department,” Joiner said in his opening statement. “I believe the evidence will show (Knight’s) intent was never to obstruct the investigation, but only to post bail for the man she loved. Do not punish Keri Knight for the crimes of Brian Barker.”
Knight did not testify in her own defense Tuesday.
However, prosecutor Jennifer Mudge argued that Knight intentionally hid the tub full of money and gold at her best friend’s house, knowing that the police would be coming to her home. Turning it in to police later does not absolve her of the crime, Mudge said.
“She concealed evidence,” Mudge said. “We don’t have to prove she knew all the intimacies of these burglaries. We just have to prove that she furnished false information and concealed evidence.”
In issuing her verdict, Napp told Knight that she had told “half-truths” during the investigation.
“I agree with one thing your lawyer said: He said you were in love, and your intent was solely to help him,” Napp told Knight, who was quietly crying. “I don’t think you are a bad person. But that doesn’t change the fact that you did it.”
Napp said she believes Knight knew the money in the tote was evidence of a crime, and purposely didn’t mention it to police searching her home. “I don’t doubt the reason was so you would have money to post bail for Mr. Barker,” Napp said. “But you knew you shouldn’t do it.”
Later, Mudge expressed sympathy. “I think it’s sad,” Mudge said. “But she put herself in this bind.”
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said the verdict was significant because it demonstrates that the courts do not tolerate obstruction of justice. “When someone attempts to hinder the investigation of a case, they will be subject to prosecution for their role in covering up a crime. It’s especially disheartening that this was a public employee who violated the law in this manner.”
Knight, 42, had been employed by the Edwardsville Police Department since 2011. In an hour-long videotaped interview with Tharp at the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, Knight said that Barker did not live an extravagant lifestyle befitting someone who had been conducting multiple burglaries for years. He was very private, and didn’t want their personal business discussed at the department, she said.
“He says he doesn’t know why (he did it), but he’s relieved he got caught and wants to be able to live a life that he wants to live and is authentic,” Knight said.
She described a man “with demons,” who lived a fairly simple life unlike one that had the spoils of dozens of burglaries hidden in their basement. When she asked about several car mufflers stored in the basement, she said he told her he bought them from a St. Louis muffler shop that was going out of business and planned to resell them on Craigslist. He did frequently sell items on Craigslist, she said, to which she attributed the fact that he had cash on hand.
But he didn’t use the cash for large expenditures, she said. When they bought a new couch, he financed it, and bought Christmas presents on a credit card, she said. He also gave money regularly to his ailing father. “He had cash, but it was reasonable to me that he had that cash,” she said on the tape.
Knight faced two counts of obstructing justice, a Class 4 felony. One count of theft, a Class A misdemeanor, was dismissed prior to trial. A presentencing investigation will take place before sentence is passed. Knight could face a sentence ranging from probation to up to 3 years in prison on the felony counts, and up to one year in jail for the misdemeanor. She remains free on bail before her sentencing, as Napp said she did not believe Knight was a flight risk or a danger to society.
Edwardsville Police Chief Jay Keeven confirmed that Knight was fired by the department some time ago. “This entire investigation is disheartening for the men and women of our department,” he said. However, he said the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and Gibbons’ office had done a “quick and fair investigation and prosecution.”
“Nobody likes doing an investigation into another police department, but they did a tremendous job,” he said.
Barker is charged with multiple counts of burglary, arson, possession of stolen firearms, money laundering and official misconduct. His case is pending in Madison County Circuit Court. No trial date has yet been set, but Mudge said she expected to have one soon.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.