MOUNT VERNON — As Knox County works on a gradual reopening, some in the criminal justice system also work on restarting their lives for the better.

Knox County Common Pleas Court resumed in-person hearings this week, ending over two months of temporary restriction of courtroom access.

Visitors attending Thursday morning’s criminal hearings were limited to 10 at a time in the courtroom. The rest waited in the conference room until notified by their attorneys or court officers.

Masks were not mandatory and few wore them.

Courthouse security at the front desk continued to monitor the health of visitors. Temperature was checked and visitors were asked to wash their hands before going beyond the security checkpoint.

One defendant notified the security that he was experiencing flu-like symptoms and was sent home, according to information shared in open court. Judge Richard Wetzel continued the individual’s hearing to next week.

Meanwhile, Michele Dobos, 30, Newark, was healthy to attend her court hearing. Dobos acknowledged that she had made some poor decisions that led to her criminal offenses. She pled guilty to theft, a fifth-degree felony.

Public Defender John Pyle pointed out that although Dobos is not a healthcare professional, she has worked for a healthcare service provider through the COVID-19 crisis. Pyle expressed that since being under pre-trial supervision, Dobos has changed her life for the better and could make a positive contribution to society.

Dobos shared that she used to play basketball for Otterbein University but could not financially afford to finish her degree and her loan defaulted. Since then, she has been convicted of other felonies and served time in prison. Now, she is ready to turn her life around.

Dobos said she has a 7-year-old son and wants to show him that “there’s more to life than going in and out of prison.” She plans on signing a new loan to go back to school in January.

Wetzel said he thought he recognized Dobos’ name from her college basketball career. Wetzel expressed that he believed Dobos has fallen in with the wrong crowd but is a better person now.

Dobos was sentenced to one year of community control. Wetzel further noted that her case will be transferred to her parole officer in Licking County.

Another man who said he was ready to turn his life around was 36-year-old J-Ro Sharp from Brinkhaven. Sharp pled guilty to failure to comply with the order or signal of a peace officer, a third-degree felony, and OVI, a fourth-degree felony.

McConville said that during the negotiation between prosecutors and public defenders, he sat down and had a conversation with Sharp and Sharp’s wife — which was unusual for the negotiation.

“He told me ‘I’m too old for this.’ And my response was, ‘Yes, you are,’” McConville said.

McConville shared that in the past 14 years, Sharp’s name was a familiar fixture on his desk. However, Sharp has not caught another charge in a year since the most recent offense this time. As a result, McConville believed Sharp has good intentions and his wife’s support to change his way of life.

McConville recommended that Sharp be put on probation with two prison terms totaling 42 months and 60 days in jail suspended. This means that if Sharp commits another crime or violates the terms of probation, he could end up incarcerated for three and a half years.

Wetzel heard the recommendation and ordered a pre-sentence investigation to learn more about Sharp’s background. The common pleas court typically conducts PSI before sentencing, although the defendant has the option to waive the investigation.

Sharp is scheduled for sentencing on July 2.

While Sharp may be able to avoid incarceration, one man was sentenced to prison at Thursday’s hearings. Quentin Boyd, 35, Mount Vernon, was sentenced to seven months in prison for illegal use of minor in nudity-oriented material or performance, a fifth-degree felony.

Public Defender John Dankovich submitted that Boyd was very remorseful for what happened. According to Dankovich, text messages showed that Boyd was “aggressively pursued” by the victim whom he met at church. The victim was 15 years old, according to information shared in court.

The two started exchanging messages in which Boyd came to possess nude photos of the girl. Boyd later “realized that it’s a bad idea” and contacted the girl’s mother to show her the conversation and materials, Dankovich said.

Dankovich posited that Boyd and the teenage victim were “on the same emotional development” level.

Court records showed that Boyd previously underwent a court-ordered psychological evaluation and was found to be competent to stand trial.

In an open statement to the court, Boyd expressed that he admitted he made a mistake but felt like the girl’s mother should also be held accountable for not knowing what her daughter was doing.

The minor and the mother both submitted letters of victim impact, according to Prosecuting Attorney Chip McConville. The content of the letters was not shared in open court.

In sentencing, Wetzel explained that due to the age gap and the victim’s “physical condition,” he considered seven months in prison an appropriate sentence. The reference to the victim’s physical condition was not further elaborated in open court. Boyd must also register as a Tier 1 sex offender and have no contact with the victim in the future.

Thursday was the first day since late-March that the court heard criminal cases in person. Since a March 13 temporary court order limited courtroom access due to COVID-19, the court had only heard criminal cases where the defendants were in the Knox County Jail. A March 17 order designated the jail as a temporary courthouse; this allowed the court to conduct hearings by video conference with the defendants appearing remotely from the jail, instead of being physically present in the Common Pleas Court.

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Eli Chung: 740-397-5333 or eli@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @