Steak knife murder trial begins in Sequatchie County

photo Willard Clifton Land

DUNLAP, Tenn. - Murder trial defendant Willard Clifton "Bill" Land will take the stand this week to describe a self-defense scenario that he says led to the steak-knife-stabbing death of 24-year-old Kerry Summer Angel in Sequatchie County in 2014.

But prosecutors have their own description of a forceful stab in the back from behind that killed Angel almost instantly.

The 74-year-old Land, represented by 12th Judicial District Public Defender Jeff Harmon, is charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 11, 2014, slaying that left Angel dead from a deep wound that severed her aorta, according to opening statements Wednesday in Sequatchie County Criminal Court before Judge Justin C. Angel. The judge is not related to the victim.

In his opening statement, 12th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Steve Strain told the jury Land, Angel and her fiancée were riding around Sequatchie County on the day Angel was killed. At some point late in the day, Angel's fiancée dropped Land and Angel off at the home of Bobby Kendall on Cagle Mountain. The men were drinking beer but Angel was not drinking.

Around 9 p.m. that night, Land and Angel were in the kitchen when Kendall turned to see Land stab Angel in the back. Kendall quickly went outside to call for help while Land left.

Land's defense counsel, Harmon, told jurors in his opening statement that Land feared Angel because she had a history of seeking access to his pain medications and Xanax and sometimes became angry and violent.

Harmon told jurors testimony would show that Land thought Angel was going to attack him, and that Angel had brandished a knife at Land and he grabbed another one to defend himself and fatally stabbed her out of fear.

Harmon also told jurors that a tape of the 911 call made by Kendall has another male voice in the background that he contends was Land who also had gone outside to call authorities.

The first to testify was Angel's mother, who said she talked to her daughter about 7:15 or so the night she was killed.

Next to testify was the resident of the home where the stabbing happened.

Kendall, who admitted drinking five to nine beers that day, testified Wednesday that he saw Land and Angel facing him when he heard Land say something, and that he saw Land stab her in the back. He said he immediately grabbed his phone and went outside to call 911.

A few moments later, Land walked out of the home and was waved away by Kendall, who was on the phone with dispatchers, then he left, Kendall testified.

Deputy Danny Hall testified that he arrived on the scene about three minutes after he was dispatched by 911 operators and entered the home, saw Angel's body on the floor and began securing the mobile home as a crime scene.

Under cross examination by Harmon, Hall testified that he saw Kendall inside the home when he pulled up and that Kendall came outside as he approached the door. Under direct questioning by Strain, Kendall had testified that he went outside after he called 911 and stayed there until other officers arrived.

Sequatchie County Constable Travis Sherman testified that he joined the search for Land and spotted him at a gate blocking through traffic on a road near the crime scene. Land complied with orders to get on the ground, had no weapons and didn't resist officers, Sherman testified.

Sequatchie County Sheriff's Office Investigator Jody Lockhart testified about processing and photographing the crime scene as prosecutors entered the photos into evidence.

Crime scene photos showed Angel collapsed on her knees on the floor of the mobile home's kitchen, a heavy, dark blood stain all the way down her back and pools of blood on the floor and on the kitchen wall.

Lockhart testified that Land remarked, "I stabbed the -- but I didn't mean to kill her. I love her."

Then Land asked if Angel was dead, the investigator testified, and he told Land she was deceased.

Lockhart said Land replied, "I'm kind of sorry she's dead."

On cross examination, Harmon hammered at Lockhart on procedures and whether Kendall was really sober enough to recall events with accuracy. Harmon also asked a lot of questions about the locations of the blood and the lack of shoe prints in the blood at the crime scene.

The last witness to testify was Dr. Thomas Deering, who performed the autopsy in Nashville. Deering testified about Angel's injuries and toxicology tests that indicated she had smoked marijuana in the hours before she died and taken several types of opiates, some prescribed.

Strain told Judge Angel that the state would likely call one more witness and then rest its case this morning.

The jury could get the case by Thursday evening.

The trial will resume this morning at 9 a.m. CST.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at [email protected] or 423-757-6569.