published Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Woman found guilty in 2010 death of Monroe County election official

  • photo
    Jessica Kennedy looks on during a Thursday, Sept. 15 2011 court hearing in Madisonville, Tenn., where she is charged in the July 10, 2010 slaying of Monroe County Election Commission Chairman Jim Miller.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MADISONVILLE, Tenn. -- A jury found the woman charged in the 2010 death of a Monroe County election official guilty on four lesser charges Monday night.

Jurors found Jessica Kennedy, charged in the 2010 death of Jim Miller, guilty of facilitating felony murder, facilitating aggravated robbery, facilitating abuse of a corpse and facilitating setting fire to personal property.

The jury deliberated for about nine hours and delivered the verdict at 8:30 p.m.

These lesser charges mean that Kennedy intentionally assisted in the crimes, but the charges are less serious than the full charges. In April, a Tennessee judge sentenced a man convicted of facilitation of felony murder and facilitation of especially aggravated robbery to 19 years.

Kennedy cried and breathed heavily as the verdict was announced, while the courtroom murmured and a few people gasped.

Kennedy mouthed, "Wow," as the jury filed out. She will be sentenced on Oct. 3 at 9 a.m.

Assistant 10th District Attorney General Jim Stutts argued Kennedy played a key role in Miller's death during his closing statements Monday morning.

"The most telling part of this defendant's testimony is when she said, 'I know the part I played and I'm willing to do the time for it,'" he said.

Stutts argued that Kennedy planned to rob Miller. He said the details Kennedy gave investigators -- mentioning the rings Miller wore and her boyfriend's .38-caliber revolver -- prove she was actively involved in Miller's death.

Kennedy gave many conflicting statements to investigators, but Stutts focused on the parts of her statements that could be corroborated by evidence or witnesses.

"She played her part, and I'm asking you to help her with the second part of that statement," he said, "when she said, 'I'll do time.'"

Defense attorney John Eldridge questioned the prosecution's robbery theory and asked jurors to consider that Kennedy's allegations that members of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department were involved in the crime could be true.

"I can't prove it was a hit," he said. "But putting three bullets in a man's head and stuffing him in a trunk and burning it doesn't sound like a regular robbery."

Eldridge acknowledged that Kennedy may have been present when Miller died, but argued that the state failed to prove she was an active participant.

He claimed that Kennedy told investigators she pulled the trigger only because she was frightened and manipulated. Kennedy was held for several days in a visitation room in the Monroe County Jail before her confession on Nov. 10. She slept on a mat on the floor and did not have access to a toilet, sink or running water in the room.

"This confession was the result of a pressure cooker that the authorities set up," Eldridge said.

He emphasized Kennedy's long history of childhood abuse and psychological disorders.

"Do you want evidence, or should you be satisfied with a mentally-ill girl giving authorities what they want to hear?" he asked jurors.

Stutts rejected Eldridge's claim that Kennedy's confession was forced and false.

"She's not powerless; she's violent," he said. "She's told you time and time again that [violence] is her answer."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at sbradbury@timesfreepress.com or 423-756-6476.

about Shelly Bradbury...

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 ...

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