Defense challenges motive theory in Monroe slaying

Defense challenges motive theory in Monroe slaying

August 17th, 2012 by Shelly Bradbury in News

Monroe County Sheriff's Office Investigator Doug Brannon tesifies about a watch owned by Jim Miller that was on his wrist when he was killed during Jessica Kennedy's murder trial Thursday in Monroe County Criminal Court. Kennedy, 29, is charged with felony murder, aggravated robbery, abuse of a corpse and arson in connection with the death of Miller, who was Monroe County Election Commission chairman.

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

MADISONVILLE, Tenn. -- Defense attorneys cast doubt in court Thursday on prosecutors' theory that the death of a Monroe County election official was part of a robbery gone wrong.

Prosecutors claim Jessica Kennedy planned to rob Monroe County election official Jim Miller with her then-boyfriend, and that the robbery ended with Miller's death. She is charged with felony murder, aggravated robbery, abuse of a corpse and arson.

Defense attorney John Eldridge showed the jury two rings and a watch found on Miller's body while he cross-examined Monroe County Detective Doug Brannon for more than three hours.

"If there was a robbery of Mr. Miller, they certainly did not take the rings and the watch," Eldridge said to Brannon. "And they are fairly valuable, are they not?"

Brannon said the rings are made of gold and diamonds, and agreed that the watch is a high-quality piece. But in later testimony, he said the rings also helped to confirm that Kennedy was with Miller on the day he died.

"The defendant described the rings flashing in the sunlight," he said. "We didn't ask people about that. She had to be there to know that."

Eldridge said that Kennedy often took details she gleaned from investigators and added those details to her statements. He argued that Kennedy's Nov. 10 claim she shot Miller was a false confession.

But Brannon said Kennedy knew too much about the case.

"There were two or three things that stood out that we could not say from our information," he said.

Assistant 10th District Attorney General Jim Stutts supported the state's robbery theory by calling a witness who claimed he saw Kennedy with a roll of cash the day after Miller's body was found.

"It was a decent little wad of money," Paul Cane said. "It filled her hand up."

Later in the day, police drove Kennedy's ex-boyfriend, Brandon Steele, to the courthouse to testify. He has not been charged in the case.

Special Judge Walter Kurtz ordered police to pick him up after he failed to appear to testify as subpoenaed by defense attorney John Eldridge. When he arrived in court, Steele claimed he overslept.

Kennedy cried and at one point turned her back as Steele testified. She told investigators in 2010 that she was afraid of Steele, who she said had hit her, shot at her, stabbed her and kidnapped her.

In some statements, she claimed he was involved in the death of Miller.

Steele denied the allegations.

"I've not killed anybody," he said. "I might be guilty of drugs, but I've never killed anyone."

The prosecution rested Thursday, the fourth day of the trial, and Kennedy's defense began. The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. today.