Defense attorney John Eldridge
Detective Doug Brannon
The prosecution has rested its case in the trial of a woman accused of murdering the Monroe County election commissioner in 2010.
Election commissioner Jim Miller was found shot and killed in the trunk of a burning car in July 2010. Detectives said the motive in the killing was robbery and believe there were several co-conspirators in the crime. The only person charged thus far is 29-year-old Jessica Kennedy.
Thursday afternoon the defense started its case in Kennedy's trial for felony murder, aggravated robbery, arson, and abuse of a corpse.
The jury has viewed several hours of videotaped interrogations where Kennedy's story changed repeatedly. The prosecution is depending heavily on the videotaped confession where she admits to helping with the robbery and shooting that ended Miller's life.
Her appointed attorney, John Eldridge, says Kennedy gave a false confession. He claims Kennedy took the wrap because she feared retaliation towards her family by those actually involved in Miller's death. That includes former boyfriend Brandon Steele.
Steele took the stand Thursday afternoon, but only after he was brought to court by deputies with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. Steele claimed he did not show up to court because he overslept.
Once he was finally at the courthouse to testify, Steele denied assertions that he intimidated Kennedy while they were both in custody at the Monroe County jail.
"You made threats to her, didn't you," asked Eldridge. "You told her to keep her mouth shut."
"No, I did not," replied Steele. "She [Kennedy] came by my cell every day and told me that she loved me. 'I love you Brandon. I love you, Brandon' all up and down the hall."
Steele was called to the stand as a witness for the defense, but did not say much to verify Eldridge's claims. Eldridge called another witness who was of little help, former MCSO deputy Kenny Hope. Eldridge asked about claims that Hope had told people in the community that he killed Miller. Eldridge also asked Hope if he made threats to Jim Miller through Miller's wife. Hope denied ever making any threats of any type and also denied claiming he shot Miller.
Another major aspect of Thursday's testimony centered on the motive of robbery. Investigators showed two valuable rings and a watch that were left on Miller's body when it was burned. Eldridge asked MCSO detective Doug Brannon why robbery could possibly be a motive if jewelry was not stolen. Brannon replied that it was not uncommon for valuables to be left behind in robberies.
The prosecution countered by saying the diamond rings actually provide evidence that Kennedy was present during the murder.
"[She] describes seeing the rings flashing in the sunlight and that's significant," said Brannon. "We've not told anybody about that [the rings]. That tells me that is something she knows of on her own knowledge."
Witnesses testified that Miller was seen with a large amount of cash in a money clip the afternoon of his death. A friend of Steele and Kennedy testified that Kennedy showed him a "wad of cash as big as your hand" the day after Miller's murder.
Eldridge asserted that the money could have been burned in the fire. Prosecutors countered by saying the money clip was not in the fire while other metal objects such as jewelry survived the flames.
A man who was once thought to be a suspect in the murder of the Monroe County election commissioner failed to show up in court Thursday as a witness.
Jessica Kennedy is charged with the 2010 murder of Jim Miller.
During testimony this week, jurors have watched hours of taped interviews by Kennedy, in which both prosecutors and the defense acknowledge her story has changed several times.
Brandon Steele, who investigators once considered a suspect in the murder, and the defense claimed intimidated Kennedy into confessing to the crime, ignored a subpoena to show up in court.
The judge issued a "material witness bond" for Steele, and ordered deputies to pick him up. He will remain in custody through the trial unless he pays a $1000 bond.
At different times, Kennedy has claimed she witnessed Miller's murder and even confessed to being a part of it at one point. In court Thursday, jurors saw a video taped re-enactment of the crime, where Kennedy went with investigators to the scene of the murder and showed them how she says it played out.
The judge prevented the playing of another videotaped interview, saying that it was obvious that Kennedy's story had changed several times and that it wasn't necessary to watch another one. The audio quality on the recordings is poor, and the jurors claimed earlier this week they were having a hard time understanding what was being said.
Detective Brannon with the Monroe County Sheriff's Department took the stand on Thursday. He showed a watch and two rings that were removed from Miller's body. The defense asked if the motive for the murder was robbery, why wasn't the jewelry taken? Det. Brannon said it's not that unusual for valuable things to be left behind at crime scenes.