Justice Seekers

Alumni — By on September 11, 2013 8:51 am
Charnette Garner, '99, and Kristina Korobov, '94, seek justice for victims in Marion County. ISU Photo/Rachel Keyes

Charnette Garner, ’99, and Kristina Korobov, ’94, seek justice for victims in Marion County.
ISU Photo/Rachel Keyes

Two girls sweated under blankets wrapped around them in the sweltering summer night with no air conditioning to cool them. They feared removing their only protection between them and an uncle that crept in with the night.

In another case, a man prowled the dark, hunting for a woman when he saw a 16-year-old girl walking alone and pounced. As he had repeatedly done before, he would take what he wanted, feeding off of her fear.

Two Indiana State University alumnae, Charnette Garner and Kristina Korobov, ensured justice for those victims while working as prosecutors in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. Terry Curry, Marion County prosecutor, described the county as fortunate to have the two women handling cases in that office. “Each has taken on tough cases, particularly in the areas of sex offenses and domestic violence, and have repeatedly prevailed as a result of their experience and dedication,” he said.

Korobov’s work resulted in a 180-year sentence for the uncle who sexually assaulted his nieces.

Garner’s work ended with Quanardel Wells, who law enforcement officers described as a serial rapist, sentenced to an 80 –year sentence for raping the teenage girl. In May, he also received a 100-year sentence for sexually assaulting four women; he’ll begin that sentence after finishing the 80-year one.

“You have to genuinely want to help people,” Garner said about working as a prosecutor. “The best feeling ever is to have the victim there or calling them and saying, ‘Guilty. We got them.’ That feeling is something I can’t explain. It is pretty awesome.”

As a child, Garner knew that she wanted to be a lawyer, even though she didn’t know what the word meant. “My mom says she has no idea where it came from. The only thing she can come up with is that Clair Huxtable was an attorney on ‘The Cosby Show,’” Garner said. “I have no idea where it came from, but for as long as I can remember I was going to be an attorney.”

In Garner’s junior year of high school, she traveled from her home in Fulton, Mo., to visit family members in Terre Haute. During the visit, a cousin showed her around Indiana State’s campus. “I said, ‘This is where I’m going to school,’” she said. “I knew I wanted to go to school out of state and I liked the campus when I visited there.”

“The best feeling ever is to have the victim there or calling them and saying, ‘Guilty. We got them.’ That feeling is something I can’t explain." -- Charnette Garner, '99

“The best feeling ever is to have the victim there or calling them and saying, ‘Guilty. We got them.’ That feeling is something I can’t explain.” — Charnette Garner, ’99

As a pre-law major, Garner took legal and women’s studies classes with Linda Maule, associate professor of political science and women’s studies, who is now the dean of University College. “She was very instrumental in guiding me about my undergraduate degree…,” Garner said of Maule. “I just remember she was very passionate about everything that she did and was very willing to help. I didn’t feel like she was professor only because she was a professor, she was a friend. She was a mentor.”

Maule remembers Garner as an earnest, hard-working and resilient student.

“I am not in the least surprised to learn that she is a successful professional, passionately defending victims and survivors of vicious crime,” she said. “I would have expected nothing less from her.”

The “hodgepodge” of classes in the pre-law program prepared her for her future, Garner said. While she took political science classes, the program allowed her to take philosophy, history and many other courses. “Because law school is a little bit of all of that, I definitely think the classes geared me toward getting ready for law school.”

Because of the variety of classes, Garner met her husband, Patrick Garner, ’98, in a business law class. It was “the one and only class I could have possibly taken to put me in the school of business,” she said. The couple married in 2007.

After graduating from Indiana State in 1999, Garner studied law at the University of Missouri, graduating in 2002. While she always planned to work in criminal law, she thought she would work as a defense attorney to keep innocent people from being wrongly convicted. But she soon discovered that few people ended up in prison because of false convictions.

“Being over on the prosecution side, I feel like I’m being more helpful by helping the victims and community as a whole by putting people who commit crimes in jail,” she said.

“Being over on the prosecution side, I feel like I’m being more helpful by helping the victims and community as a whole by putting people who commit crimes in jail.” — Charnette Garner, ‘99

Before taking over as supervisor of the D-felony and misdemeanor division leading 35 prosecutors, Garner worked as a sex crimes prosecutor. In May, she finished a case against the man she had successfully prosecuted once before. She listened as a judge pronounced a 100-year sentence against Wells, whom she described as the “worst criminal defendant” with whom she has had contact.

“He’s the type of person that you want to make sure that he can’t get out,” she said. “Marion County is a lot safer now with him off the streets because he’s a predator.”

Garner prosecuted sex crime cases for more than three years before moving to her current role.

“The more difficult cases, you take them home and think about them at night. Or you’re wondering if that child victim is safe or if that child victim is going to talk to you in your interview tomorrow. Did I file that motion? Is he going to post bond? You know, it’s non-stop worry, concern, fear,” she said. “I never wanted to get a not guilty on a case and think, ‘What if I had done x, y and z?’ I wanted to know that I had done everything I possibly could have done and for whatever reason the jury had found [the defendant] not guilty.”

Garner thinks some people may have the misconception that prosecutors just want to convict a person and send him to prison.

“The role of a prosecutor is to seek justice, and so whatever that means,” she said. “If it means that I dismiss the case and that’s justice, then that’s what I’m supposed to do. … The goal here is to seek justice, to figure out what’s going on here. If it’s a substance abuse problem, then let’s address the problem. If it’s a mental health problem, let’s address that problem. It’s not all about locking someone up, or having this many convictions, this many people that you sent to prison.”

“School is what you make of it, and I just think that Indiana State gives you a lot more opportunities to make something of it and that’s really good." -- Kristina Korobov, '99 ISU Photo/Rachel Keyes

“School is what you make of it, and I just think that Indiana State gives you a lot more opportunities to make something of it and that’s really good.” — Kristina Korobov, ’99
ISU Photo/Rachel Keyes

At 17, Korobov decided to be a lawyer when she read an article titled, “Women Who Can Be America’s Toughest Lawyers.” “I tell people, as corny as it may sound to others, that God said to me on this day, ‘That’s what you’re going to do with your life.’ I said, ‘OK,’” she said. “It was a fit of talents and passions that I had and things that meant something to me.”

Her father, a former basketball coach who worked for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and moved his family from Dallas to Indiana, directed his daughter’s attention to Indiana State. She wanted to attend a university close to her family and she learned she qualified for Indiana State’s Presidential Scholarship. When she interviewed on campus for the scholarship, she felt welcomed and “just left there feeling like this is where I want to be.”

Knowing that she wanted to be a prosecutor led her to minor in women’s studies. “It allowed me to focus on a lot of the sociology of women, who would ultimately be many of the victims of the crimes that I would handle,” she said. Korobov listened as women in the classes shared their experiences of sexual violence and their treatment by the judicial system. She also enrolled in classes in the African and African American minor. “It was a huge eye opener that people hadn’t had a positive experience with the [legal] system, and a recognition of just how far there was to come. Resting or assuming something is done and completed is a really awful idea. You’ve got to work harder and you’ve got to fight harder for certain victims.”

While at Indiana State, she interned with Sherry Biddinger Gregg, who served as chief counsel for the university. Ed Pease, a former State Senator and U.S. Representative, taught Korobov and other students legal writing to prepare them for law school.

“The course description in the catalogue was itself enough to scare off most students, leaving me every semester with a small group of highly motivated, inquisitive and very bright juniors who knew of the class’ reputation for rigor and tough grading. But they were willing to do the extra work in order to advance their post-graduate and career possibilities,” said Pease, a member of Indiana State’s board of trustees. He became well-acquainted with the students in those small classes where he made them write every day. “They never complained, apparently energized by each new challenge the course brought their way, and it was clear to me that these students were ‘going places.’ Kristina was one of that group – bright, articulate, analytic, motivated, with a strong work ethic and a clear sense of where she wanted to go.”

“You’ve got to work harder and you’ve got to fight harder for certain victims.” — Kristina Korobov, ‘94

Korobov’s success hasn’t surprised Pease.

“I knew when she was a junior that she had what it took to be a success in her career and a credit to her profession,” he said.

“School is what you make of it, and I just think that Indiana State gives you a lot more opportunities to make something of it and that’s really good. It was literally the perfect place for me to land,” said Korobov, who was elected student government president her sophomore year. “I think back to a lot of what I got from Indiana State, and I think the best thing I got there was confidence and a belief that just because you’re young or you haven’t been doing this a long time doesn’t mean you can’t.”

Korobov graduated from Indiana State in 1994 and from Indiana University—Indianapolis with her law degree in 1997. She now works as the director of prosecutor training, overseeing the training of the attorneys in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.

“This position is kind of a recognition that we, as prosecutor offices, have to do a lot of in-court work that you were never trained for in law school. If we don’t train them, it’s a public safety risk that you’re putting an attorney in the courtroom who is not properly prepared to address all of the different things that will be thrown at them in a matter of seconds,” she said.

Korobov also worked for two and a half years with the National District Attorneys Association training prosecutors, law enforcement officers and other victim advocates around the world how to investigate crimes using the law and to be a resource for lawyers.

“The truth is there are a lot of young and very inexperienced prosecutors out there and we have got to make sure they have access to training education,” she said.

Korobov prosecutes child abuse and child homicide cases for Marion County. The worst part is realizing that she cannot make every child safe, she said.

“You can’t make them safe because a jury refuses to hold [perpetrators] accountable. You can’t make them safe because the people that were put on this earth to protect them, their mothers and fathers, are more concerned with their boyfriends or girlfriends than they are with their child’s safety. Because judges in juvenile court are more concerned with the reunifying of children with their abusive family members than they are with putting them somewhere they can be safe forever,” she said. “That is the most frustrating aspect of my job is that people tell you that they care about child abuse and they care about children, and the truth is they care about Jaycee Dugard, they care about victims on the milk cartons of the world. But every day in this community, children are abused and no one seems to care about doing something about it in the long run.”

But sometimes she sees pictures years later of the children that she’s helped rescue from abusers and they’re smiling and seem happy.

Sometimes a juror will call years after a case to check on a child.

“That reminds you that there are people who really do care and who really are invested in this work,” she said.

Jennifer Sicking, Gr. ’11, is the editor of Indiana State University Magazine.

 

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