published Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Woman seeks new trial in Monroe County slaying

Jessica Kennedy talks with her defense attorney, John Eldridge, during her trial in the slaying of Jim Miller in Monroe County Criminal Court.
Jessica Kennedy talks with her defense attorney, John Eldridge, during her trial in the slaying of Jim Miller in Monroe County Criminal Court.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The woman convicted of helping others kill and rob prominent Sweetwater farmer, businessman and political figure Jim Miller has asked the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals for a new trial.

Jessica Kennedy, now 30, is so far the only person ever charged in a crime that authorities always said must have involved other participants.

Miller, 60, was chairman of the Monroe County Election Commission when he was killed on July 17, 2010, during what authorities said was a robbery.

Miller was at a home on Creek Road when he was shot in the head three times and his body stuffed inside the trunk of his car, which was discovered later that day at an isolated spot engulfed in flames.

Kennedy was charged with felony murder, aggravated robbery, arson and abuse of a corpse. A jury convicted her only of lesser offenses of facilitation of those crimes.

Kennedy, a prolific user of methamphetamine and self-described excellent cook of the drug, gave 11 widely and wildly varying stories to detectives, named various men as the killer, then said she shot Miller, then recanted that story.

After she said she shot Miller, a TBI agent told Kennedy he did not believe she pulled the trigger. Senior Judge Walter Kurtz said he did not believe Kennedy was "the leader" in the crime and sentenced her to 22 years.

Last week, a panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals heard her lawyers, John Eldridge and Michael Tabler, state their case for a reversal and new trial.

"This was a most unusual case," Eldridge told the panel, because the prosecution chose to rely heavily on just one of Kennedy's many conflicting statements, with "scant other evidence of an incriminating nature. ... She was all over the board as to who shot Mr. Miller," as well as "her own role -- if any."

Miller was known to have carried large sums of cash. Authorities said robbery was the motive for the crimes.

During Kennedy's trial, Eldridge suggested the crime might instead have been what some have speculated -- a planned execution disguised as a robbery. No evidence of that being the case has surfaced.

In either event, Eldridge said, Kennedy had no idea Miller would be killed.

Assistant State Attorney General Kyle Hixson told the panel there is "sufficient evidence to affirm at least three of the four counts" of which she was convicted. Besides saying she shot Miller, Kennedy also admitted to foreknowledge of a plan to rob Miller and to helping place his body in the car trunk, he said.

Other suspects Kennedy named as the shooter have included Kennedy's boyfriend, Brandon Steele, and fellow meth user Wallace "Boonie" Stokes Jr. Both have connections to the Creek Road residence and have criminal records.

Both recently were sentenced to long federal prison terms on drug charges unrelated to the Miller case.

With credit given for the time she was held in jail awaiting trial, Kennedy is technically eligible to be paroled as early as July of next year.

Miller's widow, Vickie Miller, and daughter by a previous marriage, Mechelle Miller, say they will oppose Kennedy's request for parole.

Contact Jim Balloch at or 865-342-6315.

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