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Grayson sheriff receives memorial

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By Larry Chambers

INDEPENDENCE — Few people in Grayson County remember when Sheriff Charles C. McKnight was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1933.

There were no plaques that honored him, which concerned Sheriff Richard Vaughan.

Several weeks ago, he started a project to remember the late sheriff and, after extensive research, a large bronze plaque bearing McKnight’s picture and the date he was killed now hangs in the front lobby of the Grayson County Courthouse.

Vaughan said he felt that law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty deserve special recognition.

McKnight, who was 57, was shot and killed March 5, 1933, when he responded to a call about a man threatening family members.

McKnight, accompanied by Deputy W.C. Ward and John Wright, a justice of the peace, went to the home of Tom Isom about seven miles east of Independence.

According to newspaper accounts, McKnight was attempting to question Posey Sexton and, without warning, Sexton pulled a pistol out of his pants pocket and shot McKnight in the chest, killing him instantly.

Deputy Ward said in the article that he and McKnight went inside the house while Wright waited in the car. They found Sexton in the kitchen. McKnight placed his hand on Sexton’s shoulder, and, according to Ward, the sheriff told Sexton to go out on the porch. That’s when he shot McKnight.

After the first shot was fired, Ward wrestled the gun away from Sexton and the gun fired a second time, with the bullet going into the kitchen wall.

Sexton was taken to Independence after the shooting. After people found out about McKnight's shooting, a large crowd gathered and — for Sexton’s own safety — he was taken to a jail in Pulaski.

The article stated that Sheriff McKnight was one of the most popular men in Grayson County and prior to being elected sheriff, a post he held for 14 months, he served as a federal prohibition officer in the area for eight years. He lived in Independence.

Sexton was found guilty and sentenced to death. The McKnight family asked that his sentence be changed to life in prison, which the court granted.

The plaque was unveiled during special ceremonies at the courthouse.

A special Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Service was held May 17 at the courthouse, which included several police officers, deputies, state troopers and other law enforcement officers and members of McKnight’s family.

Vaughan welcomed everyone to the ceremony while members of the Sheriff’s Office Color Guard presented the colors. David Osborne, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, delivered the message.

Larry Bartlett, chairman of the Grayson County Board of Supervisors and retired from the FBI, said McKnight gave the supreme sacrifice while upholding the laws of this country.

“I thank all our men and women in law enforcement for keeping us safe,” he said.

He also remembered the late Herbert McKnight — Charles McKnight’s nephew, who also served several years as sheriff.

Emily Watts of Charlottesville, Charles McKnight’s granddaughter, thanked everyone for remembering her grandfather. She joined McKnight’s daughter, 92-year-old Pauline Thomas, and other family members to unveil the plaque.

It reads: “Charles C. McKnight, Grayson County Sheriff, Killed in the Line of Duty March 5, 1933. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:13.”