In wide-ranging interviews, Sheriff Ron Peckman and his Republican challenger Jason Mosher detailed their plans for the next four years and reviewed details of the 2009 murder case that has become a focal point of their race.
Peckman, sheriff since beating incumbent Mickey Mason in their 2000 Democratic primary and a Vernon County deputy since 1992, touts his experience and success in operating the jail at a substantial profit, among other accomplishments.
Mosher, police chief at Jasper for two years, says he has more managerial experience than Peckman had upon becoming sheriff and would beef up patrols.
Absentee voting started Tuesday for the Nov. 6 general election.
Citing rumors that Peckman had an affair with murder victim Belinda Irwin Beisly, Mosher said even if the allegation is unfounded, Peckman should not be leading the investigation. "The biggest issue is the rumor that went around about the sheriff's involvement with Belinda," Mosher said Thursday.
"I'm completely neutral. I have no idea if it's true or not. But I do know that when a rumor like that gets spread this much, he should have stepped aside and let some other agency do it. If there's a conflict of interest or even the perception of one, it's fairly common to have an outside agency come in.
"If Ron really did it, he should step down. I definitely assume Belinda's husband (Bob True Beisly II) would be a suspect because of his relationship with the victim.
"They had been going through a divorce that lasted three years."
Peckman said Friday that he wasn't romantically involved with the 47-year-old woman who was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds on July 15, 2009, in her home north of Deerfield. "It's a rumor," he said.
"We were friends. Belinda was a friend of just about everybody here (in the sheriff's office) because we had dealt with the problems out there. We see a lot of domestic cases and they are not good. Nobody likes to see the worst, but the worst can happen.
"There have been a lot of wild stories," said Peckman, 54. "I really want to say something, but I can't because I don't want to mess up the case when it goes to trial. The investigation is further along than people realize."
Saying that County Prosecutor Lynn Ewing and he will make an announcement "soon," Peckman said, "When it comes to a head, then everybody will see.
"It kind of hurts that Mr. Mosher is throwing up rumors. It has been tough on my whole family because they've been thrown into it, too."
Asked if his wife Shirley is standing by him, Peckman emphatically said, "Of course."
The Peckmans have three children, Courtney Hanson of Richards, Meagan of Nevada and Ty of Columbia, and a grandchild. "Through all the tough times, I still want to be sheriff," he said.
"I have a lot of good things to do and I want this case to come to a close. I've been in contact with the Irwin family quite a bit. We've had ups and downs and a lot of information that didn't pan out, but not a day goes by that we're not doing something about it."
Peckman said his management of the new law enforcement center, opened in June 2009, saw the jail make a $300,000 profit for the county last year and that it is $250,000 in the black this fiscal year.
He supervises 10 deputies and 12 jailers, two of whom were arrested Sept. 17 and charged with taking $2,500 in bribes from an inmate's girlfriend to bring marijuana into the jail for the inmate, who himself informed the sheriff on Sept. 12 of the jailers' complicity. "It's just something that happened," said Peckman.
"I wasn't trying to hide anything. I'm sorry it happened and it's my responsibility."
Emphasizing he has more experience than Mosher, Peckman said his budget went from $1.5 million last year to its current $1.4 million. "There is so much that goes on and you've got to work within the budget," he said.
"We've been through numerous audits by the state, private companies and the Missouri Department of Public Safety and there has never been any money missing."
Along with running DARE, Neighborhood Watch and identity theft prevention programs, Peckman said Chief Deputy Shayne Simmons and he have written a number of state and federal grant applications that brought in "several million dollars.
"With our chaplains' program, we use ministers around the county to go with us on death notifications, bad traffic accidents and house fires and when inmates get bad news like the death of a family member," he said.
"Our average inmate population is 82 a day, but we had 106 in late August and early September. When we have empty beds, we house prisoners for Dade, Cedar, St. Clair and Bates counties."
Peckman, who lives at Richards, graduated from Nevada High School in 1976 and served four years in the Navy as an aircraft mechanic and on searches and rescues and special assignments for the Naval Investigative Service.
He was studying agriculture at Fort Scott Community College when he dropped out to support his growing family and he eventually entered law enforcement. "I have taken classes at Missouri Southern State University on crime scenes, deaths, homicides, arson and drugs," he said.
"I'm not saying Mr. Mosher couldn't do the job because I don't know him, but this is what I have done and have been able to do."
Asked why he doesn't have a deputy on duty at all times, Peckman said, "I am only allocated the deputies the county commission lets me have. They give me so much money and that's it. We always have a deputy for peak times and I work the road often, especially at night and on weekends."
Mosher said his confidence was boosted by his Sept. 21 chili dinner, attended by 200 people at the community center, and his reception at Sheldon after he had proved relatively weak there in his Aug. 7 primary win over seven rivals. "Most of what I'm hearing is that people think it's time for a change," said Mosher, 31, whose family moved here from Walker when he was 8 years old.
"I hear a lot about the Beisly murder. They might have information they don't want to release, but I would look into it."
Mosher, the son of Terry and Karen Mosher of Nevada, attended Calvary Christian School until the fourth grade and then was homeschooled. He has three sisters and four brothers and he and his wife April have three girls and four boys. They live at Milo.
Mosher began his career as a campus policeman at MSSU, where he will earn a bachelor's degree in December. He had been with the Jasper Police Department for a year when he was promoted to chief.
Jasper Mayor Dusty Nelson sent the Daily Mail a letter Friday in which he said, "I write this with some reluctance due to the fact that I do not want to lose this man.
"However, he has earned the career advancement he seeks with his candidacy for sheriff of Vernon County. Jason has been our chief for nearly two years and in that time, his organizational skills have transformed our department from mediocre into one that is efficient, effective and well regarded.
"He has provided more enforcement with a limited budget. His leadership and investigative skills resulted in the resolution of many of the criminal cases that occurred during his tenure. His knowledge of the law exceeds that of others who have held this office."
Vowing heightened professionalism, Mosher said, "An officer is only going to be as productive and professional as his training allows.
"Experience is one of the best things you can have, but it's only valuable if it's good experience. I supervise seven officers and four reserves in Jasper and when I took over, we had old vehicles that didn't run well and we didn't have a set uniform.
"When somebody sees an officer approaching and they haven't had a chance to talk to him, the only perception they have is what they can see. Some nights, the sheriff's office doesn't have a deputy on duty, but it needs at least one 24/7."
Mosher said Jasper, population 931 about 38 miles south of Nevada, "is a good community, but we're in the middle of Carthage and Lamar and get quite a bit of drug activity, especially with meth.
"A lot of people run to a small town to evade law enforcement," he said. "There is meth manufacturing with shake and bake labs in empty houses. We keep after them over and over again and have taken down quite a few who are in prison now.
"One of my officers was performing a DWI stop a few months ago and the guy tried to run over him and hurt his foot. There was a pursuit and we caught him at 3 a.m. in a field near Jasper after he crossed into Barton County.
"It could be a slow night or it could be the most dangerous night you've ever had."
Due to a misunderstanding, this story initially made references to Bob True Beisly III; Belinda Beisly was married to Bob True Beisly II.