PADUCAH, Ky. – A Toledo, Ohio, convicted murderer was sentenced on Friday by Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell, in United States District Court, to a lifetime of incarceration, without the possibility of parole, for the 2005 murder of a woman at Fort Knox Military Base, announced United States Attorney John E. Kuhn, Jr.
In court, defendant Ernest Otto Smith, 49, admitted that on or about January 7, 2005, he murdered Cathy M. Barnett willfully, deliberately, maliciously, and with premeditation, on the grounds of Fort Knox, within the special territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
“This life sentence is a just punishment for the brutal murder Smith committed at Fort Knox,” stated U.S. Attorney, John Kuhn.“And because Smith will not ever be paroled, we have insured the public’s safety.”
Smith had previously admitted that on January 3, 2005, he robbed and shot and killed James Dillingham in Toledo, Ohio. It is believed Barnett was present during the murder. Shortly after the murder, Smith and Barnett fled Toledo and ultimately headed south to Kentucky in Smith’s van. Smith had formerly lived and worked near Fort Knox.
During the trip to Kentucky Smith decided to murder Barnett because she witnessed the Dillingham murder and could tell the police about the murder. On January 7, 2005, Smith’s van broke down in Kentucky and Smith and Barnett hitchhiked and they were dropped off near Fort Knox. Smith and Barnett walked approximately one quarter of a mile down a service road off the main highway, into a wooded area located on the grounds of Fort Knox, in Meade County, Kentucky. In the wooded area, Smith first attempted to break Barnett’s neck, and then beat her on the head with a tree branch until Smith knew Barnett was dead. Smith left Barnett’s body in the woods and eventually traveled to Tennessee where he was arrested in Nashville on January 21, 2005. In March 2006, Smith was convicted in Ohio of the Dillingham murder and was sentenced to 32 years of imprisonment.
In late 2010, Smith spoke with his former parole officer, Dan Van Vorhis, who asked Smith what happened to Barnett. Over the course of several recorded conversations, Smith explained to Van Vorhis the details of her murder. Smith also identified where Barnett’s remains would be found. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) searched and found Barnett’s remains on the grounds of Fort Knox, in the wooded area identified by Smith.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Weiser and was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.