MADISONVILLE, Tenn. — A psychologist testified Friday that the suspect in the 2010 slaying of a Monroe County election official was severely abused as a child and is psychologically disturbed.
"Jessica [Kennedy] is not a psychologically normal person, she is a very disturbed person," psychologist Kathryn Smith said in Monroe County Criminal Court.
Smith concluded that Kennedy, who is charged with felony murder, aggravated robbery, abuse of a corpse and arson in the death of Jim Miller, has several psychological conditions as a result of a traumatic childhood.
"It was horrific," Smith said. "Sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect at all levels."
From the time Kennedy was 7, child protective services were involved with her family, Smith said. She found about 11,000 pages of records about Kennedy from various child protective service agencies, Smith testified.
Three men were convicted of abusing Kennedy, Smith testified. One was convicted of sexual battery when Kennedy was 4, another was convicted of assault when Kennedy was 7, and a third was convicted of sexually abusing Kennedy and two of her siblings when she was 14 years old.
Kennedy first was admitted to a psychiatric hospital when she was 8 years old, Smith said, and the pervasive abuse still affects her today.
"She figured out how to adapt in that type of situation — where there is a power differential — and part of that is conforming, figuring out what the person in power wants to hear," Smith testified.
Defense attorney John Eldridge argued that Kennedy gave a false confession to investigators because she was scared, and that past abuse played into that confession.
Smith said Kennedy's conditions also affect her cognitive ability and make it more difficult for her to think, reason, plan, judge or consider consequences when she is under stress.
"The mind just shuts down," she said. "There is no thinking things through or arguing for yourself."
In cross examination, 10th District Assistant Attorney General Jim Stutts questioned Smith's methods and expertise, and he pointed out that Smith interviewed Kennedy about a year after her confession.
Madisonville resident Brenda Stakely also testified for the defense Friday. She said she overheard Kenny Hope, then a Monroe County sheriff's captain, claim he killed Miller.
"He sat up on the edge of the couch and said, 'I killed him and burned him like the pig he was,'" she said.
Hope was drunk at the time and repeated the statement four or five times, she said.
Hope, who since has left the sheriff's office, said he talked to Miller two or three months before he died because "[Miller] thought he was above the law," but he denied ever claiming he killed him.
"I made no statement on regards to killing Jim Miller," he testified.
Stutts said investigators verified Hope's alibi for the time of Miller's death by examining receipts and surveillance video footage from a grocery store.
The defense rested Friday, and closing statements in the trial will begin at 9 a.m. Monday.
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...