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Alford plea ends case of Lawrenceburg gas station mirror

A trial involving a mirror through which people could peek into the women's restroom at an Anderson County service station was cut short Wednesday after the station's owner entered Alford pleas in the case.

John Ellis, 61, owner of the Parkway Marathon at 2060 Harrodsburg Road, Lawrenceburg, was placed on probation for two years by District Court Judge Donna Dutton. Ellis entered Alford pleas to charges of criminal attempt to commit voyeurism and disorderly conduct. (With an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but admits there is enough evidence that a prosecutor could convince a judge or jury that he or she is guilty.) The charges against Ellis were misdemeanors, each carrying a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.

The case took several twists and turns, with part of it going to the state Supreme Court. It stemmed from an incident on Nov. 18, 2005.

A woman and her adult daughter noticed light and movement coming from behind the restroom mirror that day, Anderson County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis said. The women confronted a clerk at the station, then went to an antiques store down the road to contact authorities.

Police heard noises coming from behind the mirror when they went to investigate. They knocked on a door next to the women's restroom that was labeled "office," but which actually led to another restroom, Lewis said.

Police say they thought Ellis, who answered the door, was in the office/restroom securing shelving that covered a hole in the wall and a hole in the metal backing of the women's restroom mirror, she said.

By removing the shelving, a person in the office/restroom could see clearly into the women's restroom, but a person in the women's restroom could only see light and movement and not clear images behind the mirror, she said.

Defense attorney David Guarnieri said there was no question that the mirror was the way it was, but that Ellis had nothing to do with it and was not in the office/restroom when the women used the restroom next door.

"That station's been in operation since 1960-something," Guarnieri said. "There's no telling how long that mirror had been that way."

Ellis has owned the station since 1986 but leased it to others over the years. Ellis has been operating the station himself on a regular basis since 2003, his attorney said.

Guarnieri said he had three witnesses ready to testify that Ellis was not in the office/restroom when the women were using the facilities. But, he said, based on how the trial was proceeding, it appeared that the jury was going to be asked to find Ellis liable for the state of the mirror and not to find him guilty of peeking at the women.

"The jury was going to be allowed to find Mr. Ellis guilty, regardless of whether they believed he was there or not," he said. "If the jury was asked to decide whether he was on the other side of that mirror, we'd be sitting in that court right now."

The Alford pleas were entered after the women testified and the mirror was presented to the jury. Ellis had no previous criminal record, the prosecutor and defense attorney said.

Lewis said the two women felt vindicated and were happy with the outcome of the case.

The disorderly conduct charge against Ellis was dismissed in 2006 by District Judge Linda Armstrong, Lewis said. That led to a series of filings and appeals to higher courts.