Death of Innocence - The Murder of Young Shanda Sharer
It did not take prosecutor Guy Townsend long to bring charges against Hope Rippey and Toni Lawrence. On March 15, 1992, he charged both girls with murder, arson, battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery, criminal confinement, and intimidation. During their arraignment, Judge Ted Todd waived both into the adult system. Following their brief appearance they were taken to the Jefferson County jail to await trial. Later that same afternoon, Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett were brought before Judge Todd and charged with seven additional crimes, including child molestation and criminal deviate conduct. A month later, on April 9, 1992, Townsend filed an additional count of felony murder against Loveless and Tackett.
On April 22, 1992, Toni Lawrence accepted a plea deal with the state. In exchange for testimony against the other three girls and a guilty plea to the charge of criminal confinement, Townsend agreed to drop all of the other charges against Lawrence. For this guilty plea Lawrence would face six to 20 years behind bars, at the sentencing judge's discretion. Many people were angry about the plea agreement, but Townsend felt it was necessary in order to have an eyewitness for the state.
Unmoved by the state's new witness, Loveless, Rippey and Tackett repeatedly turned down offers from the state. In response, Townsend filed death penalty specifications against Loveless and Tackett on July 13, 1992. In addition, he filed another charge against both girls conspiracy to commit murder. Because of Rippey's age, Townsend could not file death penalty specifications against her.
On August 17, 1992, Toni Lawrence was discovered slumped over in her cell. She was rushed to Scott Memorial Hospital in Scottsburg, where it was determined that she had taken an overdose of Lorazepam, an antidepressant drug. It was later learned that she had been saving her prescribed daily doses for some time in order to make a suicide attempt. Lawrence was initially comatose and remained in the intensive care unit for eleven days before regaining consciousness. Following her recovery, Judge Todd ordered that she be transferred to Lifespring Mental Health Facility in Jeffersonville for evaluation. Lawrence remained in the custody of mental health officials until October 1992, when she was transferred back to jail.
On September 21, 1992, Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett decided to accept a plea bargain with the state. Both would plead guilty to the murder and torture of Shanda Sharer and to arson and criminal confinement. In exchange, the state would drop all other charges and withdraw the death penalty specifications against them. The agreement specified that they both cooperate with the state and that their ultimate sentences run concurrently.
According to the book Cruel Sacrifice, by Aphrodite Jones, just eight days after her plea agreement, Melinda Loveless was caught having sex with an employee at the Clark County Jail. The employee subsequently resigned, and Loveless was transferred to the Indiana Woman's Prison. No charges were filed.
In November 1992, Tackett and Loveless attended separate plea agreement hearings in which they admitted to their actions in the death of Shanda Sharer. Judge Todd set both sentencing hearings for December 14, 1992. The following day Hope Rippey's trial date was set for March 1, 1993. Regardless of her cronies' actions, she continued to maintain her innocence.