MOUNT VERNON — In Thursday’s Knox County Common Pleas Court hearings, a Mount Vernon man plead guilty to the reduced charge of gross sexual imposition, a fourth-degree felony, for engaging in sexual activities with his girlfriend while she was unable to consent.

Samuel Shaffer, 28, engaged in sexual acts with the victim while she was unconscious in November, according to Prosecuting Attorney Chip McConville. Shaffer was originally indicted for rape, a first-degree felony.

Shaffer admitted to the act but told the court that he believed the victim was not completely unconscious, that she was aware of her environment but “not what was happening.”

McConville rephrased and noted that the key fact was that the victim was unable to give consent to sex due to her physical condition.

Judge Richard Wetzel accepted the guilty plea and ordered a pre-sentence investigation. The conviction of gross sexual imposition mandates that Shaffer register as a tier I sex offender for a period of 15 years.

Shaffer is scheduled to be sentenced on July 30.

Also pleading guilty to reduced charges was Eric Azbell, 34, Howard. Azbell plead guilty to aggravated possession of drugs and illegal conveyance of drugs of abuse onto the grounds of a detention facility, both third-degree felonies.

McConville recommended a sentence of 24 months for each count to be served concurrently. As part of the plea agreement, the rest of the charges, including illegal use or possession of drug paraphernalia and tampering with evidence, were dismissed. Azbell waived the right to appeal as part of the agreement.

Public Defender John Dankovich noted that the plea agreement was a result of extensive negotiation and asked the judge to accept the recommendations.

Dankovich said that Azbell had overdosed as a result of the incident which led to the charges and had spent time recovering in jail. He submitted that Azbell does not want to continue his previous lifestyle and that is why he was accepting of the prison term and will continue to work on his recovery.

The defense waived the right to a pre-sentence investigation. The court continued to sentencing at the hearing.

Azbell was sentenced to 24 months in prison for both charges to be served concurrently, with 170 days served. The convictions also carried a $5,000 mandatory fine. However, the court vacated the fine based on Azbell’s indigency.

Debra Huff, 53, Mount Vernon, was also sentenced today for aggravated possession of drugs and permitting drug abuse, both fifth-degree felonies.

The charges stemmed from a search warrant executed in February at Huff’s Hickory Street residence. The search warrant was based on reported drug activities at the residence and months-long investigation, McConville previously told the News.

During the search, Huff was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

Huff was previously released on bond but was arrested again on a bench warrant for failure to appear to her last sentencing hearing.

Attorney Morgan Giles, who represented Huff, noted that past few months’ events — including losing her belongings and housing — had negatively impacted Huff. If released from custody, she has plans to potentially relocate to Kentucky, according to Giles.

Huff was sentenced to two years of community control. Wetzel reminded Huff that if she were to relocate, she will need to discuss it with her probation officer and obtain permission before she could leave the state.

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Eli Chung: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter, @



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