published Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Potential witness charged with making threat in murder trial

Defense attorney John Eldridge confers with defendant Jessica Kennedy during Kennedy's trial for the murder of Jim Miller on Tuesday in Monroe County Criminal Court in Madisonville, Tenn. Kennedy, 29, is charged with felony murder, aggravated robbery, abuse of a corpse and arson in connection with the death of Miller, who was Monroe County Election Commission chairman. Miller was shot in the head three times and his body was found in the trunk of his burning car on July 17, 2010.
Defense attorney John Eldridge confers with defendant Jessica Kennedy during Kennedy's trial for the murder of Jim Miller on Tuesday in Monroe County Criminal Court in Madisonville, Tenn. Kennedy, 29, is charged with felony murder, aggravated robbery, abuse of a corpse and arson in connection with the death of Miller, who was Monroe County Election Commission chairman. Miller was shot in the head three times and his body was found in the trunk of his burning car on July 17, 2010.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MADISONVILLE, Tenn. -- A potential witness was arrested Tuesday during a murder trial in Monroe County Criminal Court.

Jessica Kennedy is on trial for the death of Monroe County Election Commission Chairman Jim Miller, who was shot three times in the head on July 17, 2010. She is charged with felony murder, aggravated robbery, abuse of a corpse and arson.

The potential witness, Adam Toepfer, was taken into custody after another witness in the case said he threatened her outside of the courtroom.

Jaclyn Farrar said Toepfer put his hand on the back of her head and threatened her. Kennedy's sister, Ashley Sturgill, said she also overheard Toepfer making threats.

"He said she'd be the next one in the trunk of a car," Sturgill told the court.

Miller's body was found in the trunk of a car.

Special Judge Walter Kurtz charged Toepfer with criminal contempt and ordered him taken into custody.

In their opening statements, attorneys painted starkly different pictures of Kennedy, who offered numerous statements to investigators throughout the course of the investigation. In some scenarios, she said she pulled the trigger, and in others, she said she wasn't involved.

No one else has been charged in the case, which is still an open and active investigation.

The prosecution acknowledged that Kennedy didn't act alone, but Assistant 10th District Attorney General Jim Stutts described her as a key participant in the crime.

"She had intimate knowledge of what happened and she had to be there to know those details," he said.

John Eldridge, Kennedy's defense attorney, said the case is about power, and suggested Kennedy was manipulated into a confession.

"Powerlessness is the name of this case," he said. "Powerlessness was Jessica Kennedy."

TBI investigator Bill Brakebill was the only witness called to the stand Tuesday.

Stutts questioned Brakebill about the timeline of the case and tried to establish the legitimacy of Kennedy's confession. Brakebill was the lead interviewer on Nov. 10, 2010, when Kennedy claimed she pulled the trigger on Miller.

On questioning from Stutts, Brakebill said Kennedy was allowed bathroom breaks, food and drinks during the long interview. The investigator also said he did not raise his voice or make any aggressive physical approaches as he questioned Kennedy.

In her Nov. 10 statement, Kennedy said: "I'd never seen a man die like that before."

But in another conversation before Nov. 10, she claimed she was not involved.

"I know I'm not going down for this when I had nothing to do with it," she told a friend who was wearing a wire.

Eldridge referred to Kennedy's various testimonies as "stories," and suggested that she changed her story in order to tell investigators what she thought they wanted to hear, but only because she felt powerless.

But Stutts cautioned jurors not to ignore Kennedy's claim that she pulled the trigger.

"Don't get lost in all those [statements]," he said.

The trial continues today at 9 a.m. in Monroe County Criminal Court in Madisonville.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at sbradbury@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6476.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury joined the Times Free Press as a business reporter in January 2013, after starting with the paper as a general assignment intern in July 2012. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint Hill Times. Outside the newsroom, Shelly enjoys ...

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