On April 7, 2006, Frankie Covington waited exterior Sharon Muse’s legislation workplace in Georgetown, Kentucky, the place he stated he hoped to get some help with a will. Covington had briefly been one in all Muse’s shoppers up to now, and the legal professional later recalled that Covington instructed her his spouse had not too long ago died. For his half, Covington had been launched from jail days earlier after an grownup exploitation and terroristic threatening conviction.
It was after 5 p.m. on a Friday, Muse instructed Covington, explaining that she couldn’t assist him immediately. However Covington stated he wanted a journey.
Out of concern or generosity, Muse agreed. What got here subsequent has the sordid, harrowing narrative of a real crime saga—together with allegations of a violent kidnapping and tried rape that despatched Covington to jail for all times.
“He was going to rape me,” Muse told the 911 dispatcher.
This story was produced in partnership with the Garrison Project, an impartial, nonpartisan group addressing the disaster of mass incarceration and policing.
However the story of what occurred in Muse’s automotive that day has since taken a collection of weird turns. First, it grew to become a part of a robust biography for her election as a prosecutor and as a compelling narrative for her true crime memoir. Now it’s the crux of a exceptional innocence declare from Covington’s authorized staff—backed, extremely, by the prosecutors who received the unique conviction—which alleges that Muse’s story has shifted considerably over time. In the meantime, Muse’s tenure as prosecutor has been marred by allegations of misconduct and conflicts of curiosity, together with after she later married the choose who sentenced Covington to life.
“She’s the one sufferer we’ve ever had who has ever complained concerning the offender receiving the utmost sentence potential.”
— Gordie Shaw, former prosecutor
Gordie Shaw, one of many prosecutors who labored the unique Covington case and whose retirement set the stage for Muse’s election, instructed The Each day Beast that “what [Muse] stated within the e book was not lining up in any respect what she had stated within the victim-impact assertion, which the choose depends upon for sentencing.”
Of Muse, Shaw lamented, “She’s the one sufferer we’ve ever had who has ever complained concerning the offender receiving the utmost sentence potential.”
Leigh Goodmark, creator of Imperfect Victims: Criminalized Survivors and the Promise of Abolition Feminism and director of College of Maryland Francis King Carey Legislation Gender Violence Clinic, instructed The Each day Beast that Muse’s case is particularly troublesome.
“As somebody who has represented victims for 25 years, my inclination is to consider and be supportive of the issues that they inform me. And I do know that the main points of circumstances can change over time. And that, as a operate of trauma, reminiscence is usually impaired. So folks could recall particulars at later dates that they didn’t recall at an earlier date. Tales can change. And that’s not essentially a sign of dishonesty. It might be a operate of the affect of trauma on reminiscence,” Goodmark stated.
“However this feels completely different to me.”
As Muse gave Covington a journey that day, his instructions grew to become confused, and he or she grew suspicious of him. Muse had briefly represented Covington in District Courtroom in 2001 for the “terroristic threatening” cost. She referred to as her boyfriend and put the telephone on speaker. In some unspecified time in the future, Covington instructed Muse to make a flip. Muse refused. She stated the highway appeared “abandoned.”
“I ended the automotive and instructed him to get out,” Muse later stated. “He grabbed my shirt and bra and pulled me whereas he was reaching for a weapon.”
Muse instructed her boyfriend who was listening in that Covington had a weapon. She escaped out of her automotive, and, utilizing the telephone of somebody who stopped to assist, instructed the 911 operator that Covington “grabbed [her] and pulled a knife out.” She stated Covington instructed her “he went to jail due to [her],” and demanded she “take her garments off.”
Covington, who was carrying a fishing knife, was arrested that night. Muse was taken to the hospital. Medical data and pictures present purple marks on Muse’s chest. They had been recognized on the time as “minor scratches.” The person who stopped to assist Muse noticed Covington grabbing her and later stated that he assumed it was a pair preventing.
For Covington, the journey from the legal professional’s legislation workplace led to a life sentence for kidnapping and being a persistent felony offender below Kentucky’s mass-incarceration fueling Persistent Felony Offender (PFO) statute. (Covington’s prison document additionally consists of convictions on housebreaking and prison possession of a cast instrument costs.). For Muse, the incident was a central a part of a profession as a prosecutor and creator: she is a leading victims’ rights advocate in Kentucky, the Commonwealth Legal professional for the state’s 14th Judicial Circuit, and a real crime creator of an aptly-named e book Kidnapped By a Client: The Incredible True Story of an Attorney’s Fight for Justice for Skyhorse, a publishing home whose books are distributed by Simon & Schuster.
“In her early statements, Muse stated she agreed to offer Covington a journey. At trial, she testified that he opened her automotive door with out her permission.”
In a movement to set aside Covington’s conviction and sentence filed in November, his attorneys say that through the years, not solely has Muse supplied a staggering variety of conflicting accounts of the alleged kidnapping, however there may be good motive to doubt that the incident occurred in any respect.
“Mr. Covington is presently incarcerated for not solely against the law that he didn’t commit, however for against the law that fairly probably by no means befell,” his attorneys write. “He has been incarcerated for over 16 years and dangers the possibility of by no means being launched because of the lies and willful misconduct of the sufferer on this case.”
Muse’s lawyer Kenyon Meyer wrote in an e-mail to The Each day Beast that “provided that Ms. Muse Johnson is the sufferer of a violent crime in an ongoing case, we’re not responding to questions past our filings within the case.”
Meyer hooked up a response to the Covington motion that he filed with Bourbon County Circuit Courtroom on Jan. 20. “The Courtroom ought to deny Covington’s movement to put aside his kidnapping conviction,” Meyer wrote within the movement. “A jury convicted him of kidnapping, the Supreme Courtroom of Kentucky affirmed, and he ought to spend the remainder of his life behind bars. Ms. Muse Johnson’s life depends upon it. Covington is a violent, persistent felony offender who kidnapped Ms. Muse Johnson. He threatened to rape her. He threatened to kill her. His tenth felony conviction was lawful, and his life sentence was each justified and simply. The Courtroom ought to deny the movement with no listening to.”
Whitney Browning, Covington’s post-conviction legal professional and workers legal professional for the Kentucky Division of Public Advocacy, instructed The Each day Beast her workplace will probably be “responding to these motions and asking the court docket to strike it from the document.”
In 2007, Covington entered a responsible plea to kidnapping and first-degree sexual abuse. A couple of days later, he stated he needed to withdraw it, arguing he was not competent on the time to enter such a plea. A choose denied Covington’s request. Two years later, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that Covington had been denied the flexibility to withdraw his plea. He lastly went to trial in 2011.
Within the years between Covington’s 2006 arrest and his trial, Muse’s account of the incident shifted. Her two sufferer affect statements—one in 2007, one other in 2011—two written statements that aren’t dated in any respect, and her 2011 trial testimony, comprise “evident quite a few inconsistencies,” in response to the movement from Covington’s attorneys.
The transcript of the April 7, 2006, 911 name exhibits the dispatcher asking Muse if Covington hit her. “No, he grabbed me,” Muse instructed the dispatcher. However at trial, Muse testified that “all I may see had been his palms and I used to be so targeted on his palms and the place they had been and was he going to hit me. A few occasions he pulled again like he was going to punch me and he didn’t…. He grabbed, he touched…. He by no means simply hauled off and punched me proper within the face. Properly, till the tip. He punched me throughout my complete physique.”
In her early statements, Muse stated she agreed to offer Covington a journey. At trial, she testified that he opened her automotive door with out her permission.
Browning instructed The Each day Beast that Muse’s “particulars escalate over time.”
“From the start, Mr. Covington has admitted that he grabbed her. And the witness that testified at trial testified that he noticed him grabbing her by the arm and attempting to place her again into the automotive,” Browning stated.
However, she added, “Getting a life sentence for grabbing somebody is a really massive deal.”
As Covington served his jail sentence, Muse grew to become a outstanding victims’ rights advocate. She created an internet site, Own Your Moment, which instructs folks on tips on how to determine potential threats and assume the correct “mindset, consciousness, and ways,” and presents ideas for victims on tips on how to turn out to be empowered within the prison justice system. It additionally gives granular accounts of the 2006 incident with Covington. An infographic on the web site teases a “by the numbers” have a look at the incident. There, Muse says she instructed Covington “no” 7 occasions when he requested for a journey, a pointy distinction to what she said in her 911 name. “He requested me—stated he simply wanted a journey just a few blocks down the highway, and I stated, fantastic,” she instructed the dispatcher. The infographic says that within the automotive, she “took 9 blows to the face from his fist” and “17 punches to my physique.”
One prosecutor on the Covington case described her accidents as “minor scratches on her higher proper chest.”
In his latest submitting, Meyer disputed that Muse’s accidents had been insignificant and listed accidents from her medical data not cited within the Covington staff movement. “Covington characterizes Ms. Muse Johnson’s accidents as ‘minor scratches,’” Meyer wrote. “Covington took a half web page from Ms. Muse Johnson’s medical data and included it within the physique of the movement. It’s no accident that he didn’t embody the complete web page. The remainder of that web page signifies that Ms. Muse Johnson suffered ‘myalgias,’ ‘again ache,’ ‘arthragias, [sic]’ ‘bruising,’ and ‘swelling.’”
On Muse’s web site, she portrays Covington as a disgruntled and disturbed former shopper who deliberate to take her to an deserted farm and rape and homicide her.
“I’m not concern mongering,” Muse instructed The Southeast Outlook in 2015. “I need folks to comprehend that we’re sheep. Predators are wolves. They’re wired to devour us. We are able to make it straightforward for them or make them remorse they picked us.”
That very same yr, Muse made appearances on native AM radio, the place she stated she endured “full blows to the face” from Covington and that when she exited the automotive to get away from Covington, she had “blood on her breasts.”
“In each single one in all these cases, Mrs. Muse-Johnson’s story has modified,” the Covington staff movement reads. “Proof used to convict Mr. Covington was unreliable and critically undermines the validity of his conviction.”
Goodmark, the legislation professor and professional on gender violence, stated: “Varied types of violence typically don’t have seen accidents. Strangulation doesn’t all the time go away seen accidents. The form of stroking she’s discussing doesn’t go away seen accidents. however…if she had been punched throughout her physique in the best way that was described right here, there would have been marks. And I can’t think about that prosecutors wouldn’t have had footage of these accidents, as a result of that they had footage of the opposite accidents.”
In 2018, Muse introduced a run for Commonwealth Legal professional for Kentucky’s 14th Judicial Circuit, which covers Bourbon, Scott, and Woodford counties. All are small counties in north central Kentucky; all the inhabitants of Bourbon County is just over 20,000 people. Muse ran in opposition to Keith Eardley, one of many prosecutors within the Covington case. The winner would exchange Shaw, the opposite prosecutor within the Covington case, who was retiring.
A “Select Muse November sixth in your subsequent Commonwealth Legal professional” election mailer added new and extra violent particulars of the 2006 incident. “Covington pressured Sharon to drive out of city and he tried to rape and kill her,” the mailer, accompanied by a mugshot of Covington, learn. “He slashed at her throat with a knife, bending the blade as she escaped, working into the highway to seek out assist.”
“She actually pushes herself as a voice for victims—a prison legal professional who herself was a sufferer,” Browning stated. Muse told local media that three weeks after the incident with Covington, she determined to run for prosecutor.
In late 2018, Muse was elected because the Commonwealth Legal professional for the 14th Judicial Circuit, defeating Eardley with practically 70 p.c of the vote. In early 2019, when Muse was sworn in as Commonwealth Legal professional, she said, “The very last thing I needed to see was victims having to undergo what I had been by means of.”
In 2020, Skyhorse revealed Muse’s memoir, Kidnapped By a Consumer: The Unbelievable True Story of an Legal professional’s Struggle for Justice. It’s a hybrid real-life thriller, Christian inspirational memoir, and how-to for victims. The e book acquired a starred review by Writer’s Weekly, which stated, “This gripping, fast-paced account leaves the reader questioning: may this occur to me?”
The accounts of the alleged abduction by Covington in Kidnapped By a Consumer differed considerably from her 911 calls, her statements to legislation enforcement, and her trial testimony. In her e book, Muse wrote of the assault: “I may see the muscle tissue in his proper arm flex as he sawed along side my neck—the place my carotid artery pulsed. I may really feel the chilly of the metal because it minimize my neck and the heat of the blood working down my breast.” That form of extreme harm was not corroborated by pictures or Muse’s medical data, Covington’s movement argued.
After Kidnapped By a Consumer was revealed, Eardley and Shaw, the prosecutors on the Covington case, introduced the inconsistencies in Muse’s account to Kentuckys Division of Public Advocacy.
In July 2022, Eardley and Shaw signed sworn affidavits concerning “conflicting evidentiary particulars” from Muse. Eardley stated accidents Muse stated she endured—together with “massive chunks of hair… ripped from her cranium… bloody wounds on her chest… deep cuts and in depth bruising”—weren’t in keeping with the proof launched at trial. Eardley additionally stated that her victim-impact assertion stated she couldn’t use one in all her arms and “couldn’t stroll unassisted,” but her e book describes attending an April 8, 2006, Etta James live performance in Louisville—one evening after the alleged assault.
Of their movement, Covington’s attorneys referred to as Kidnapped By a Consumer “a select your individual journey e book whereby Mrs. Muse-Johnson will get to brighten and make up no matter story she desires to succeed in the conclusion she needs.”
Muse has cried foul, together with her legal professional dismissing Eardley’s considerations concerning the memoir as politically-motivated assaults. “These prosecutors, Gordie Shaw and Keith Eardley, sparked this investigation in opposition to their political opponent, Ms. Muse Johnson, after she 1) defeated Eardley within the race for Commonwealth’s Legal professional of the 14th Judicial Circuit in 2018 and a couple of) embarrassed them each for mentioning in her e book, which was revealed three years in the past, the ample errors they made getting ready for and at trial,” Meyer wrote in his latest submitting.
However Carissa Byrne Hessick, a College of North Carolina legislation professor and director of its Prosecutors and Politics Project, instructed The Each day Beast, “I don’t suppose your common lawyer goes to signal a false affidavit, irrespective of their private animus. They know what the implications are. That doesn’t strike me as prone to occur. On the similar time, I’d hope that individuals who’ve been accused of misconduct, irrespective of the motivations, would be capable to reply [a complaint] on its deserves…. They need to struggle about, ‘Oh, it’s political.’ The true query is, ‘Did the particular person have interaction in misconduct?’”
Eardley instructed The Each day Beast that he learn Muse’s e book and was shocked by the numerous new particulars of the incident he had not heard earlier than. “I learn the e book when it got here out and there have been issues that didn’t match up with the trial,” he stated. “So, I contacted my former boss Gordie Shaw and I lent him a replica of the e book, and we mentioned, and we had an moral obligation to report it.”
In her e book, Muse additionally criticizes Eardley and Shaw, who she stated made “many doubtlessly deadly errors” within the case, together with a “failure to arrange [her] for trial,” not placing forth proof of sexual abuse, and never charging Covington with tried rape or tried homicide.
Like Shaw, Eardley burdened that Muse wasn’t critically injured within the incident and that Covington acquired a life sentence.
“Mrs. Muse wasn’t killed, thank goodness. She wasn’t raped, she wasn’t critically injured, and the unhealthy man is doing a life sentence,” Eardley stated. “I believe Mr. Shaw and I did an ideal job.”
Skyhorse Publishing didn’t reply to a request for remark for this story.
“What’s uncommon right here, after all, is the DA as against the law sufferer, whose story doesn’t match up with a few of the details,” stated Daniel S. Medwed, Northeastern College legislation professor and creator of Barred: Why the Harmless Cannot Get Out of Jail. “And you’ve got prosecutors who’re saying, ‘Look, there’s some inconsistencies in her account.’ The concept of prosecutors form of turning on one another, that’s a fairly exceptional piece of it.”
In November, Kentucky’s Division Of Public Advocacy filed the movement to vacate the conviction of Covington as a result of what they stated had been a number of inconsistencies in Muse’s story. “She was not partially bare. She was not bloody,” the movement reads. “The markings proven on Mrs. Muse-Johnson’s chest are in step with Mr. Covington grabbing her arm when she was exiting the automotive.”
“We now have a person who undoubtedly lied to cops and through her testimony, who’s now an elected place in Kentucky,” Browning stated. “And there are quite a few points which have popped up by means of her time in that place.”
“In Muse’s ‘by the numbers’ infographic, she declared, ‘It’s 100% assured he’ll come again to kill me if he’s launched.’”
Byrne Hessick, the legislation professor, stated that “when prosecutors try to show perjury claims or false accusation claims… the straightforward approach to win it’s by means of factual inconsistency. You don’t need to show what the reality is—solely that each statements can’t be true. This seems like a kind of conditions. She both wrote a e book through which she is saying stuff that’s false, or made false statements as a sufferer of crime.”
There are different moral points past the e book. Within the spring of 2021, Muse married Robert G. Johnson, the choose who sentenced Covington (she now goes by each Sharon Muse and Sharon Muse-Johnson). There is no such thing as a indication they had been seeing each other throughout Covington’s trial. However Johnson as soon as labored as an Assistant Commonwealth Legal professional within the workplace his spouse leads. In 2022, Johnson ran for Circuit Courtroom Decide, elevating considerations of a possible battle of curiosity if he had been to win. He didn’t win.
Johnson said that if he was elected, he would deal with all of the circuit’s civil circumstances, whereas one other choose would deal with its prison circumstances.
“A priority a few choose and the Commonwealth’s Legal professional is the looks of impropriety in any circumstances in his court docket,” Medwed stated. “Particularly in small counties, it might presumably crop up occasionally. Attorneys marry one another rather a lot. A choose would possibly marry a prosecutor. What I believe might be the result’s that the choose must disclose that… you might be ruling on issues that have an effect on your spouse’s livelihood.”
In 2022, 14th Judicial Circuit Courtroom Decide Brian Privett despatched a letter to Kentucky Legal professional Common Daniel Cameron alleging that Muse and Johnson engaged in “possibly criminal” conduct by utilizing public assets to movie a actuality TV pilot. Kenyon Meyer, an legal professional for Muse, stated Privett’s claims had been false. However Georgetown Police Chief Michael Bosse confirmed a shoot took place: “There was an hour-and-a-half to 2 hour filming of two officers enjoying the roles of detectives in an thought or idea that needed to do with the connection between police and prosecutors.” In a written assertion to Georgetown News-Graphic final yr, Meyer stated Muse “was interviewed by a manufacturing firm who needed her to think about growing some kind of idea. She by no means acquired any compensation, and no present was ever developed.”
“Within the final chapter of Kidnapped By a Consumer, there’s a warning to readers that Covington—whose title is modified to “Larry Morrison” within the e book—is eligible for probation in 2026.”
Meyer instructed The Each day Beast that “my recollection is that there was no actuality TV present.”
Privett also accused Muse of placing too many individuals on grand juries, tipping the dimensions for returning an indictment. Investigations into Privett’s complaints had been handled by Kentucky AG Cameron—who made nationwide information when he oversaw the grand jury in 2020 that did not indict the officers who killed Breonna Taylor, who had been later criminally charged by the U.S. Department of Justice. Cameron advisable the dismissal of approximately 160 indictments due to Muse’s errors with grand juries, including two murder indictments and a child rape indictment. Ultimately, nevertheless, Cameron decided that there was no prison wrongdoing by Muse.
Privett’s personal document is just not freed from blemishes: After he resigned as circuit choose in January 2022, he acquired an unrelated public reprimand that November for exchanging “flirtatious and sexual textual content messages” with an worker in 2018.
Within the final chapter of Kidnapped By a Client, there’s a warning to readers that Covington—whose title is modified to “Larry Morrison” within the e book—is eligible for probation in 2026.
Browning defined that when Covington is up for parole, Muse’s statements about him—even contradictory ones—will probably be taken under consideration. That features “the victim-impact assertion… and all the opposite statements that she has launched to the board,” Browning stated. “So, inside that features details that she didn’t testify to and won’t be true.”
Muse, in the meantime, has issued ominous forecasts about what she thinks will occur if Covington is paroled. In Muse’s “by the numbers” infographic, she declared, “It’s 100% assured he’ll come again to kill me if he’s launched.”
That Kidnapped By a Consumer could assist Covington get launched from jail exemplifies the issues with the latest explosion of true crime within the TV, podcasting, and publishing industries, in response to critics of and consultants on the style.
“True crime takes the worst facets of the prison authorized system, trivializes them, and repackages them as leisure for folks with absolute disregard to the harm that’s accomplished to of us who don’t need their tales instructed in that method,” Goodmark stated. “I’m much less troubled by narratives which can be instructed by the victims themselves, as a result of they’ve the flexibility to make determinations about what they need to make public and what they don’t. However with that comes a accountability to be truthful and to have your claims maintain as much as scrutiny”.
Elon Green, creator of Final Name: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Homicide in Queer New York and as soon as a contributor to Columbia Journalism Evaluate on media points, instructed The Each day Beast that prosecutors must be held to an particularly excessive customary.
“It is a scenario the place extra skepticism than typical is warranted, as a result of prosecutors, by their very nature, are superb at telling tales,” he stated.
“They usually do not need to all the time adhere to the reality, proper? Their job is to acquire a conviction.”
Inexperienced talked about Central Park 5 prosecutor Linda Fairstein: “These are individuals who have the flexibility to ship harmless folks to jail. To allow them to completely persuade a reader to consider a memoir.” After Anthony Broadwater was exonerated in 2021 for the rape of creator Alice Sebold—whose memoir Fortunate recounted her 1981 sexual assault—she apologized to him.
“I’m speaking concerning the nuts and bolts of true crime: Is that this factor true? Good and unhealthy, that’s the bar that the true crime typically clears,” Inexperienced stated.
Goodmark stated she “can see an argument that may very well be made that Muse-Johnson shouldn’t be criticized for telling her story. However having put that story out into the general public sphere in a method that’s inconsistent with what prosecutors understood to be the details, what the image exhibits to be the details, and with this type of the evolution to the story over time, I don’t suppose it’s irresponsible to ask her to reply for that.”