DUNLAP, Tenn. — A jury of seven men and five women deliberated for just under two hours before finding Willard C. "Bill" Land guilty of second-degree murder in the Oct. 11, 2014, steak knife slaying of 24-year-old Kerry Summer Angel.
Land, 74, was originally charged with first-degree murder when he was arrested the day of the killing.
"I am extremely grateful to the [district attorney's office and staff] for keeping some other woman from being killed," Angel's mother, Carolyn Bragg, said after the verdict.
"We're very pleased with the verdict. The jury obviously took a lot of care in reaching their decision," 12th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Steve Strain said.
Public Defender Jeff Harmon called several witnesses Friday morning who knew Land and Angel or who had observed the alleged behavior of the accused and victim, and a family member who claimed to have found a knife the investigators missed at the crime scene.
Shelly Smith testified under direct questioning by Harmon that she encountered Angel on one occasion three or four weeks prior to the slaying when she stopped with her friend, Tasha, at a market on Cagle Mountain. Smith said she didn't know Angel before this day at the market.
Smith testified that she waited outside in her car while her friend entered the store.
"Four or five minutes later, Tasha came out. It wasn't a few seconds and this Summer girl came out and was yelling and waving her arms," Smith testified. "Summer reached and grabbed Tasha and pulled her back and swung on her."
Smith said her friend dropped the grocery items she was carrying and "they started going at it," until bystanders stopped the fight.
Defense witness Brent Letchworth encountered Angel and her fiance, Matt Harriger, at the same market the day of the killing or the day before. The encounter happened while Letchworth was employed at the market.
Letchworth testified that the couple were arguing in the parking lot one day while he was working with a delivery truck driver.
Letchworth's boss told him to ask them to leave because "they were being obscene and running off business," he testified. Letchworth is an inmate at the Sequatchie County Justice Center and is serving time for violating his probation.
The last defense witness was Land's niece, Martha Carney, who testified that Bobby Kendall paid her $50 to clean his home of the blood left behind by the fatal stabbing.
Carney testified that she moved a dog food bag beside a pool of blood and found a black-handled knife on the floor.
"I hollered at Bobby and he told me to throw it away," Carney testified.
Under cross-examination by Strain, Carney denied that she "would do anything" to keep her uncle out of prison but also testified that she never told police about the knife, even when she talked with investigator Jody Lockhart the week before the trial.
Carney testified under follow-up questioning by Harmon that no one put her up to telling about the knife.
Strain recalled Lockhart to talk about the conversation he had with Carney a couple of weeks prior to the trial.
Lockhart testified that Carney told him she was "going to be a character witness" for her uncle and said "she had heard Miss Angel and Mr. Land arguing a couple of times" but "never said anything about a knife."
Carney never gave a reason for not telling police in the two-plus years since the killing.
Lockhart also testified that Land, following a court hearing on another case, threatened to kill the investigator, although under cross-examination he also testified that he did not file charges against Land for threats of retaliation for a past act, as allowed under state law.
On Friday after the verdict, Land was escorted back to a cell at the Sequatchie County Justice Center. He will face a sentencing hearing April 18.
Strain said that at the sentencing hearing he can bring up a previous voluntary manslaughter conviction Land had in California and other drug convictions he has had locally.
The previous convictions could be reason to increase his sentence, Strain said. If Land is deemed a range 2 offender, one who has serious prior convictions, the sentencing range is 25-40 years in prison. A range 1 offender's sentencing range is 15-25 years in prison.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.