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An Indiana farmer accused of murdering his cancer-stricken wife days after she filed for divorce advanced in a Republican primary vote from his jail cell while awaiting trial.
Andrew Wilhoite, 41, a Republican candidate who was vying for a town board seat in Clinton Township, advanced in the local election despite being charged with murder in the slaying of his wife, Elizabeth “Nikki” Wilhoite, whose body was found in a creek in March.
According to Indiana state law, an arrest doesn’t impact a candidate’s eligibility — only a felony conviction can remove the candidate from a ballot.
“The fundamental philosophy of our legal system is that every person is innocent until proven guilty,” Brad King, co-director of the Indiana Election Division, told Oxygen.com on Friday. “So as a result, an accusation being filed or an arrest being made, and a person being in prison does not result in the automatic disqualification of a candidate or even the removal of an incumbent office holder. It requires a conviction be handed down by either a jury or a court.”
Wilhoite scored 61 votes of a total 276 ballots cast — or 21 percent of the vote — according to voting records. Fellow Republicans on the ballot, Bradley J. Smith and Michael Young won 110 votes and 106 votes, respectively. Voters could select up to three candidates to advance into the general election. Smith, Young, and Wilhoite were the only names on the Republican ballot.
“The terrible event that occurred happened after the deadline for candidates for the primary to file for the ballot or withdrawal from the ballot,” King said, referring to Elizabeth Wilhoite’s alleged murder.
The Indiana state elections official explained a number of absentee ballots had likely been cast for Wilhoite prior to his wife’s murder.
“By the time the incident occurred, the ballots were already being printed and mailed to absentee voters,” he added. “So the candidate’s name had to remain for the legal reasons but also the practical reasons were that some people had actually cast an absentee ballot before this terrible episode occurred.”
The Clinton Township board is comprised of only three sitting members. No Democrats filed on the primary ticket. This means Wilhoite will clinch a town board seat by default in the upcoming November election unless a conviction is rendered or Wilhoite opts to withdraw from the race. He has until noon on July 15 to file withdrawal papers, state elections officials said. If Wilhoite withdraws, the county chairman of the Republican party would then choose a successor candidate to replace Wilhoite on the ballot.
Wilhoite has pleaded not guilty in his wife’s murder. A jury trial has been scheduled for Aug. 29, however, it’s not an absolute guarantee the case will officially get underway ahead of the next round of voting; pre-trial proceedings, which could possibly last months, may delay the trial. If Wilhoite chooses to ride out his campaign from jail before a trial verdict is reached, he could technically be elected from jail if he receives at least one vote.
"This could be his own [vote], since he does not lose his right to vote while imprisoned awaiting trial," King said.
Elections officials, however, noted that Democratic, independent, or libertarian candidates could still add their names on the ballot in the coming months, officials noted.
“If Mr. Wilhoite remains on the ballot on November 8, he will not automatically be elected to township board,” King said. “If that person receives at least the third highest number of votes, then that candidate would be elected instead of Mr. Wilhoite.”
Andrew Wilhoite is the son of Marcia C. Wilhoite, an elected councilwoman at-large in Boone County. Boone County Sheriff’s Office, which was initially tasked with investigating Elizabeth Wilhoite’s murder, recused itself from the investigation due to a potential conflict of interest. Indiana State Police since overtook the investigation.
“When our investigators realized this could be a possible homicide investigation, we wanted to discuss the best way to move forward with the investigation since the mother of Andrew Wilhoite is a County Councilwoman, another county elected official,” Sheriff Michael T. Nielsen said in a statement.
Nielsen previously described Elizabeth Wilhoite’s killing as “horrendous.”
On March 26, Elizabeth Wilhoite’s body was found partially submerged in a creek near her Lebanon home. She'd been reported missing a day earlier. Her husband, who first denied involvement in the killing, later allegedly confessed, telling investigators he clobbered his wife in the head with a flower pot during a heated dispute, and later disposed of her body by throwing it over a bridge, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
“Andrew stated he picked up a cement, gallon-sized flower pot that had dirt in it and struck Elizabeth in the face,” charging documents stated. “Elizabeth fell to the ground and Andrew stated he didn’t know what to do so he took Elizabeth’s body, placed it in his pickup and threw it in a nearby creek that is east of the residence.”
Prior to his wife’s death, the Indiana man told authorities he and his spouse had gotten into an argument over an affair he’d been having with another woman. According to separate court filings, Elizabeth Wilhoite filed for divorce on March 17, roughly a week before her murder.
Andrew Wilhoite told authorities that “news” of his infidelity had been “hard,” on his wife, but said he thought they could reconcile, court filings stated. The couple, who were married 12 years, have two children together.
“This lady just finished her last round of chemo today… very proud of you,” Andrew Wilhoite wrote on Facebook about a week before his wife's death.
Andrew Wilhoite, who is being held at a Boone County detention facility, has a pre-trial conference hearing set for May 27, court records show.
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