Judge cancels trial for 2014 slaying of pastor, plans to set new date next week

Jordan Craig and Steven Kelley
photo Jordan Craig and Steven Kelley
photo Kenneth Johnson
photo Crime scene investigator Sgt. Heather Williams works the scene where the body of Kenneth Johnson was found on Blackford Street in Chattanooga.

A judge Thursday canceled the trial of a 24-year-old man accused of beating a Chattanooga pastor to death in November 2014, instructing lawyers to return to court next week to pick a new date.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz told Steven Kelley that prosecutors asked for more time on his case, which was scheduled to go before a jury on July 26.

According to a motion filed earlier this month, prosecutors said two crime scene investigators would be unavailable during the entire week of the trial. Jason Demastus said his colleague, prosecutor Kristen Spires, wanted him to gather a few potential dates Thursday in court.

"However, I don't know her calendar," he told the judge, and suggested lawyers push Kelley's case to Monday to pick a date.

On Nov. 13, 2014, police found Kenneth Johnson, a veteran and associate minister at Mount Canaan Baptist Church, beaten to death in a ditch off Blackford Street. After searching his ransacked car, investigators traced a series of text messages on his cellphone to Jordan Craig, 27, and her boyfriend, Kelley, who were later arrested and charged.

Each facing charges of felony murder and especially aggravated robbery, Kelley and Craig were originally co-defendants. In November, attorneys agreed to set their trial on May 3. But, in April, the state asked to sever the case, and a July 26 trial date was set for Kelley. Craig has no scheduled trial date, records show, but is also scheduled to appear before Greenholtz on Monday.

At the time of the slaying, Craig told police she met Johnson to buy illegal drugs, dropping Kelley off in a nearby hiding spot in case the deal went sour, according to her affidavit. When Johnson asked her for sexual favors, she said, Kelley came to her defense and attacked the pastor.

Kelley shared a different story, claiming he stowed away in Craig's back seat as she drove to an alley to meet Johnson. He got out of the car after the pastor propositioned her. Then, when the pastor started beating him with a crowbar, he fought back, according to records.

Kelley told authorities he was hit in the head and across the chest, but investigators only found a scratch on his scalp and no bruise on his torso. After searching the crime scene, police also reported they never found evidence of illegal drugs, leading them to believe the pair lured Johnson into the alley to rob him.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at 423-757-6347 or zpeterson@timesfreepress.com.