Attorneys have set a trial date for a 33-year-old woman accused of first-degree murder during a fatal 2011 robbery.
Beginning Feb. 7, 2017, jurors in Hamilton County Criminal Court will work to determine whether Jessica Sterchi is guilty of first-degree murder, especially aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence. Judge Barry Steelman agreed to the date Monday and set a check-up hearing on Jan. 9.
Authorities say Sterchi played a role in the October 2011 shooting of Zachary Higdon. His mother found his body, splayed as if he'd been crucified, with a pillow over his face and sprayed with bleach, at his home in the Whispering Pines mobile park at 900 Airport Road. Beneath his armpit was a gunshot wound.
Chattanooga police never made an arrest until 2014, when a witness pointed Detective Lucas Fuller to Sterchi, who opened up during a four-hour interview.
Sterchi told her on-and-off boyfriend, Travis Caslin, and his brother, Charles Caslin, then 39 and 43, respectively, about Higdon's drug supply, records show. They took her to Higdon's trailer, where Sterchi went inside and bought cocaine, according to previous testimony.
Then, both Caslin brothers broke through the door in masks, demanding drugs. One held a gun to Sterchi's head, forcing Higdon, then 30, to his knees.
After the killing, Sterchi told Fuller she returned twice to the scene and grabbed a few items. Still, it wasn't over for her.
Sterchi told Fuller that Travis Caslin then hit her, chipped a tooth, shoved her in the trunk of a Monte Carlo, took her to a home on Central Avenue, and held her for four days, raping and beating her.
Neither Caslin brother has been charged in the case, records show.
Although prosecutors have argued Sterchi knew what she was getting into when she suggested they buy drugs in the first place, her attorney, Rip Biggs, has said she never received instructions about a robbery.
In fact, Sterchi's lengthy interview with police recently became a focal point in her case.
After investigators showed her photos of Higdon in 2014, Sterchi became upset, saying four times, "I don't want to do this anymore," records show.
The investigators respected her request, according to a May order from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, then resumed questioning Sterchi 16 minutes later.
The issue, though, was whether "I don't want to do this anymore" was an unequivocal request to end the questioning and invoke her right to remain silent.
After hearing the issue, Steelman said Sterchi did indeed invoke her right to counsel. And in doing so, he suppressed about two-thirds of her statement.
Although prosecutors objected to the ruling, the Court of Appeals upheld it, concluding the suppression order did not "eliminate any reasonable probability of a successful prosecution."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at 423-757-6347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.