Seeking justice

Standard photo/Marisa Patwa

Warrick County Sheriff Detective Paul Kruse, United States Attorney Josh Minkler, Evansville Police Department Detective Bryan Brown and Warrick County Sheriff Deputy Derek Miller at the Warrick County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Like most child exploitation cases, the investigation and prosecution of 53-year-old Boonville man Jimmy Mitchell last August was a difficult one. But, what made it even more harrowing was that the victim's own mother did not believe her at first.

United States Attorney Josh Minkler awarded Warrick County Sheriff Detective Paul Kruse and Warrick County Sheriff Deputy Derek Miller with the United States Attorney's Award for their "exemplary work" in the Mitchell case at the Warrick County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, Feb. 28.

The victim first reported the abuse to the Warrick County Sheriff's Office in May 2016.

"Court testimony showed that Mitchell was a truck driver who took photographs of the victim while on a work trip to Illinois," according to a press release

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from the U.S. Attorney's Office. "Further evidence showed that Mitchell also produced pornography of the victim while in Boonville."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Wheatley said in a lot of these cases, the victims are scared to come forward because they do not think anybody is going to believe them.

"In fact, this victim's own mother did not believe her story," she said. "And it was important that the first two gentleman she encountered believed her and then fought for her and then continued to fight for her. And without that, we wouldn't be here today, and he wouldn't be in prison."

The collaborative investigation was led by the Evansville FBI Safe Streets Task Force Child Exploitation Section in partnership with the Warrick County Sheriff's Office, with Mitchell eventually being found guilty of production and possession of sexually explicit material involving a minor at a bench trial in August 2018, where he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

"It was a brilliant investigation," Minkler said. "Whenever there is a trial, it means that the strength of the investigation was fully tested by our criminal, judicial process.

Minkler said the Mitchell case was found to be a flawless and perfect investigation.

"The testimony came through strong and persuasively, and the defendant was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison, which is effectively a life sentence," he said. "We can confidently say that, 'Jimmy Mitchell will never ever harm another child again as long as he is alive.'"

Evansville Police Department Detective Bryan Brown was also given an award for his role in helping with the phone forensics in the case.

"He routinely works these types of cases -- I don't know how he does it," said Kyle Sawa, assistant United States attorney and lead prosecutor on the Mitchell case. "It is hard focusing the emotional toil on these types of cases but because of that, the impact that he makes in the community is immeasurable."

Sawa also handed out special challenge coins to the three law enforcement agents involved.

"These coins are given out so they can look back to that particular case and see how much they appreciate their efforts and stellar performance," he said. "And we feel the investigation and prosecution on this case was really done at a high level."

Sawa said the case initiated with Miller.

"He met with the victim and interviewed her," he said. "Then, from that interview, he got a search warrant for Jimmy Mitchell's phone."

Miller also had a fruitful interview with Mitchell.

"He got a lot of admissions from that interview, which led to his arrest," Sawa said. "So he kind of took the case and ran with it."

Sawa said the case could have been a lot more difficult without Miller's involvement.

"He made this case go much smoother and he also testified at trial," Sawa said. "The defense attorney was a little cantankerous and tried to beat him up a little bit but, he did a really good job withstanding that on cross-examination."

Kruse also had some gains in the investigation, when he interviewed Mitchell after he was arrested and before he got an attorney.

"He interviewed him twice and each time he interviewed him, he got a lot of really good admissions," Sawa said. "Whether Mitchell realized that at the time or not, I don't know, but, they were also very useful at trial, and also handled cross examination very skillfully and because of his efforts, led to a guilty verdict."

Minkler said he knows these cases are not just solved by individuals.

"They are done by teams and this was a three man team that worked on this but, I know there are so many people who worked on this case who aren't being recognized," he said. "I always give the sheriff recognition of the leadership he provides, to allow the deputies who work on cases like this, who seek justice on these cases, to work in federal court -- it means a lot to me and our office."

Sawa also gave gratitude to Warrick County prosecutor Mike Perry.

"The U.S. attorney's office has a great partnership with Warrick County and we adopted this case from Warrick County," he said. "Without the partnership, we wouldn't be able to do our job."

Minkler said this is the kind of case that is important for not only the Boonville community, but the entire district and even country.

"Child exploitation is one of the most serious crimes that exist," he said. "It is some of the most important work law enforcement work has to do but, it is also the most difficult and it takes special people to do it. It takes dedicated people to do it, people that work hard and long hours and have a passion for seeking justice for many of the most vulnerable members of our society."

Sawa said they can never truly undo the harm that was done to the victim in the Mitchell case.

"But, we can hopefully give her the chance to move forward," he said, "and because of the work of these gentlemen, I think we have given her that opportunity."

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