Defense attorney John Eldridge and defendant Jessica Kennedy react to the jury's guilty verdict for facilitation of murder Monday night.
Jim Miller's body was found in the trunk of his burning car on a rural Monroe County road in July 2010.
It took a Monroe County jury nine hours to determine the fate of a woman accused of killing Election Commissioner Jim Miller in 2010. When all was said and done, at 8:20 p.m. Monday the jury determined 29-year-old Jessica Kennedy was guilty of facilitating the murder of Jim Miller.
Kennedy's trial started last week and featured almost nine hours of recorded interrogations where she repeatedly changed her story until ultimately confessing to a role in Miller's death.
The defense spent the week arguing Kennedy's confession was false and coerced by fear of retribution against her and her children.
Kennedy is the only person charged in the death of Miller thus far. The defense also focused on the role of other suspects, including Kennedy's fellow meth users and former boyfriends Wallace 'Boonie' Stokes and Brandon Steele.
Regardless of what role others may have played, the jury determined Kennedy was guilty of facilitation of four criminal counts: facilitation of first-degree murder, facilitation of aggravated robbery,
facilitation of arson, and facilitation of abuse of a corpse.
Jim Miller's daughter, Mechelle Miller, expressed satisfaction with the verdict along with a hunger for more answers.
"We heard so many different stories. I mean we're all still walking away wondering and wanting the truth," said Miller. "Even if it was facilitated guilty, it was guilty."
If Kennedy had been convicted of outright first degree murder, she could have faced a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. While the state failed to deliver the harshest conviction, prosecutor Jim Stutts said he is pleased with the verdict.
"All we ever really wanted was for someone to evaluate the proof and the evidence to see if they believe Miss Kennedy is responsible for part of the homicide on Mr. Miller. They decided she was," said Stutts. "Miss Kennedy did play a part, as she put it in her [confession] statement, and that
she was willing to do the time. Now she'll get to do that time."
Defense attorney John Eldridge also said the verdict is a relief.
"To go from a possibility of getting life without parole to facilitation of first degree murder or felony murder is just amazing. She [Kennedy] is very
excited and I am excited for her," said Eldridge. "She will get a sentence that someday she will get out. There is hope at the end of the tunnel."
Sentencing for Kennedy is set for October 3, 2012. The length of her sentence depends on whether the judge decides to stack the sentences consecutively or concurrently. The harshest individual sentence is for facilitation of first-degree murder with a penalty of 15 to 25 years. Kennedy will have to serve at least 30 percent of that sentence before she is eligible for parole.
Now Mechelle Miller turns her focus to the other suspects yet to be charged in her father's death.
"There is going to be more to come," said Miller. "Hopefully, when that comes we'll get a good jury and we'll get the complete justice my dad deserves."
Prosecutors say they will be meeting in a couple of weeks to ramp up the ongoing investigations into other possible suspects in Miller's killing.
Reporter's Note: Below is a compilation of updates that break down the day's events as they unfolded.
Monday 8:20 p.m. update:
Jury finds Kennedy guilty of facilitation of first-degree murder.
The jury in the murder trial of Jessica Kennedy has returned a verdict of guilty on facilitation of all four counts: facilitation of first-degree murder; facilitation of aggravated robbery; facilitation of burning personal property; and facilitation of abuse of a corpse.
Prosecutor Jim Stutts says the maximum sentence for facilitation of first-degree murder, the most serious charge, is 15 to 25 years in prison.
A sentencing hearing is set for October 3, 2012, at 9:00 a.m. in Monroe County.
Closing arguments concluded at around 10:30 a.m. and the jury began deliberations at 11:00 a.m. Monday.
The trial of 29-year-old Jessica Kennedy started last week. She is charged with felony murder, aggravated robbery, arson, and abuse of a corpse in the 2010 death of Jim Miller. Miller served as Election Commissioner in Monroe County and was found shot and killed in the trunk of his burning car in July 2010. Stay with wbir.com and 10News for updates.
Monday, 7:45 p.m. update:
Jury deliberations continue into late-evening
Jury members remain at the Monroe County Courthouse in Madisonville as deliberations continue in the Jessica Kennedy trial. The jury stayed through dinner and has not given any indication as to whether they will break for the evening or return a verdict tonight.
Relatives of victim Jim Miller and family members of Jessica Kennedy have still fill the benches inside the courtroom awaiting the verdict.
Monday, 11:23 a.m update:
Judge instructing jury in Jessica Kennedy trial
Special Judge Walter Kurtz has read through instructions to the jury and recapped the charges against Jessica Kennedy. The prosecution and defense wrapped up their closing arguments at around 10:30 a.m.
Count one is for first-degree felony murder, facilitation of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and facilitation of second-degree murder.
The second charge is for aggravated robbery and facilitation of robbery.
Count three is for destruction of robbery and lesser offense of facilitation of destruction of robbery.
The fourth count against Kennedy is for abuse of a corpse and the lesser offense of facilitation of abuse of a corpse.
Kurtz told the jury Kennedy a defendant is criminally responsible for the conduct of another if they aided the other person and/or benefited from the act. He then went through each charge and what constitutes a guilty ruling for the range of each count; i.e., the difference between first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and facilitation of each count.
The jury will convene and determine what, if any, of the charges Kennedy is guilty of "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Monday, 10:35 a.m. update:
Closing arguments complete in Jessica Kennedy trial
Prosecutor General Jim Stutts has completed his closing arguments against Jessica Kennedy.
Stutts recalls many violent actions by Kennedy in contrast to the defense's suggestion that the defendant is a submissive and fearful person.
"She is not powerless, she is violent," said Stutts.
Stutts then offers a rebuttal to the defense's suggestion that Kennedy was mistreated in jail by being held in a visitation booth that does not have a toilet or direct access to water. Stutts said making an inmate request bathroom visits and water is no different than the requests made by students in elementary school to a teacher.
"Use common sense," said Stutts.
Stutts is then critical of Kennedy's assertion that she was forced to witness a murder carried out by Wallace 'Boonie' Stokes and Brandon Steele.
"If these [Stokes and Steele] are the desperadoes she wants you to believe them to be, are they stupid enough to take a witness?," asks Stutts.
Stutts then said whether or not Kennedy played an active part in the crime, she was there and benefited from it.
"Hold her responsible for what she told you she did," said Stutts. "Give her justice."
Monday, 10:19 a.m. update:
Defense completes closing argument on behalf of Kennedy
Appointed defense attorney John Eldridge completed his closing arguments at 10:19 a.m. for Jessica Kennedy.
Eldridge told the jury to set Kennedy free and send a message to Monroe County investigators they need to "roll up their sleeves, get to work, and find out who killed Jim Miller."
Eldridge's arguments centered on casting doubt on the motive of robbery, Kennedy's role in the crime, the role of other suspects in the crime, and her "suggestible" mental state.
Eldridge says the recorded interrogations of Kennedy viewed last week show that Kennedy wants to tell people exactly what she saw and who was involved in Miller's murder, but she is afraid.
Eldridge asks the jury if the motive is robbery, why the culprits would leave valuable rings and a watch on the victim.
Eldridge says if you concede that Kennedy witnessed the murder, there is still a big difference between being aware of what someone else is doing and playing a part in a crime with "active intent."
Eldridge speaks to conspiracy theories and criticizes the investigation for failing to look into the possibility that Morgan County deputy Michael Morgan may have been involved in the crime.
Kennedy's long history of sexual and physical abuse is also mentioned in that she has a survival mechanism of being submissive by doing and saying what those in power request. Eldridge says that includes giving a false confession. Eldridge also speaks to threats communicated to Eldridge by other suspects, including Wallace 'Boonie' Stokes and Brandon Steele.
Eldridge says Kennedy's confession is the result of a pressure cooker environment by law enforcement who did not understand "how pliable" Kennedy was as a "mentally ill girl who would tell them what they want to hear."
Monday, 9:25 a.m. update:
Closing arguments underway in Jessica Kennedy trial
Prosecutor General Jim Stutts concluded the first portion of closing arguments in a packed courtroom around 9:25 a.m.
Stutts said Kennedy has knowledge of the crime and "she knows because she was there and did her part." Stutts mentioned the large amount of cash Kennedy had on hand the day after the crime. Stutts then recalled the witnesses who testified Miller was seen with a large amount of cash in a money clip the afternoon of his murder.