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Jordan Craig
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Steven Kelley

Attorneys may be working toward a plea deal for a 28-year-old woman accused of felony murder in the 2014 slaying of a Chattanooga pastor.

When Jordan Craig next appears Nov. 21, it could "end up being a disposition date," her attorney, Ben McGowan, said Monday in Hamilton County Criminal Court. On a disposition date, attorneys typically announce a plea deal or dismiss charges altogether, which would be unusual this far into a criminal case. Until then, though, McGowan and prosecutor Lance Pope agreed to start preparing for a March 21 trial date.

On Nov. 13, 2014, police say, investigators found Kenneth Johnson, associate minister at Mount Canaan Baptist Church, veteran and former convict, beaten to death in a ditch off Blackford Street. When they searched his car, investigators found his cellphone and traced a series of messages to Craig and Steven Kelley, her co-conspirator. Indicted as co-defendants, Craig and Kelley moved through Criminal Court together until April 2016, when prosecutors moved to separate them.

Set for trial Oct. 18, Kelley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder two days before, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Like Kelley, Craig faces charges of felony murder and especially aggravated robbery.

At the time of the 2014 slaying, Craig told police she met Johnson to buy illegal drugs, dropping Kelley off in a nearby hiding spot just in case the deal went south, according to her affidavit. When Johnson asked for sexual favors, Kelley came to her defense, she said.

Kelley, on the other hand, said he stowed away in Craig's back seat as she drove to an alley of her choosing 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 court records.

After searching the crime scene, police said Johnson's wallet and keys were missing. They also never found evidence of illegal drugs, leading them to believe the pair lured Johnson into the alley to rob him.

But, as defense attorneys pointed out during a preliminary hearing in 2014, police found "suspicious" text messages on Johnson's phone that suggested he also dealt drugs to other people.

During that hearing, McGowan asked Matthew Puglise, an investigator with the Chattanooga Police Department, to describe a message in which Johnson wrote that he had 15 unidentified drugs on him at the time.

Puglise saw a few of those messages in 2014, he said, but never made contact with the other parties, records show.

On Monday, Judge Tom Greenholtz also set a Feb. 16 check-up date and a Feb. 3 deadline for state prosecutors to share any additional "discovery" they had in the case. During discovery, attorneys exchange evidence with each other before a case goes to trial.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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