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Marcia Gayle KELLY

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Murder for hire
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 23, 2005
Date of arrest: 3 days after
Date of birth: December 21, 1970
Victim profile: James Kelly (her husband)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Cushing, Nacogdoches County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole in August 2006
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Marcia Gayle Kelly (born December 21, 1970) is a convicted American female murderer serving life without parole for allegedly orchestrating the murder of her husband James. She is incarcerated at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas, and her Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Offender number is #1381826.

Crime

On October 23, 2005, truck driver James Kelly was shot to death in his Cushing, Texas home. Initially, his stepdaughter Shaina Sepulvado and her friends Dallas Christian and Colton Weir were the prime suspects. All three were later charged in James' death. When interviewed however, James' widow, Marcia, was implicated in his death. Colton said that Shaina and Marcia had orchestrated the plot to have James murdered and was promised a vehicle in return for committing the crime. In a police statement, Marcia admitted that she overheard some of the juveniles make a statement about wanting to kill her husband, but did not admit to offering them anything to kill her husband. On October 26, 2005, Marcia was charged with capital murder.

Trial

On July 31, 2006, Marcia Kelly's murder trial began. At the trial, prosecutors presented the jury with what they believed to be the motive. Marcia had a $100,000 life insurance policy on James. Prosecutors also stated that Marcia and James argued on how to punish Marcia's unruly daughter Shaina. Other testimony was presented at the trial from men who claimed Marcia had also solicited them to kill her husband, along with that of Colton Weir.

Marcia did not testify in her own defense, but her daughter Shaina did take the stand to defend her mother. On the stand, Shaina testified that she was responsible for the murder and that her mother was not involved. Shaina had also claimed that James had been beating and molesting her. Jurors did not believe her, and convicted Marcia of capital murder. Since the death penalty had not been sought against her, Marcia received an automatic sentence of life without parole.

Aftermath

Colton Weir in November 2006, and Shaina Sepulvado in April 2007, were each convicted of capital murder at separate subsequent trials in Nacogdoches County, Texas. They are each serving life without parole.

Dallas Christian pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to 40 years in 2008.

Two other males, Billy Loftin and Gary Batchelor, were convicted of lesser charges of tampering with evidence, in connection with James Kelly's death.

Marcia Kelly's conviction was affirmed by the Twelfth District Court of Appeals on January 23, 2008.

Marcia's case was profiled on Snapped on March 20, 2011. During the program, Marcia and Shaina discuss elements of the case.

Marcia still maintains her innocence, and is seeking assistance in overturning her conviction.

On 25 June 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 vote, that mandatory Life Without Parole for crimes committed as juveniles (a ruling which impacts Weir and Sepulvado) violates the 8th amendment to the US Constitution (cruel and unusual punishment). Weir and Sepulvado can apply for re-sentencing.

 
 

In the Court of Appeals
Twelfth Court of Appeals District
Tyler, Texas

No. 12-06-00384-CR

Marcia Gayle Kelly, Appellant,
v.
The State of Texas, Appelleee.

Appeal from the 420th Judicial District Court of Nacogdoches County, Texas

MEMORANDUM OPINION

We withdraw our opinion delivered on January 23, 2008, and substitute the following opinion in its place.

Marcia Gayle Kelly appeals her conviction for capital murder.  In three issues, she argues that the trial court erred when it allowed her statement to the police to be admitted, that the trial court should have moved the trial because of pretrial publicity, and that the trial court should have granted her motion for a new trial.  We affirm.

Background

Because Appellant does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence, we will briefly state the facts that support the conviction.  James Kelly, Appellant’s husband, was shot to death while he slept.  The police learned that Appellant had offered to pay several juveniles to kill Kelly.  The police invited Appellant to the sheriff’s office to answer questions.  While there, Appellant signed a written statement.  In that statement she admitted hearing some of the juveniles make a statement about wanting to kill her husband, but did not admit to offering them anything to kill her husband.

A Nacogdoches County grand jury indicted Appellant for the felony offense of capital murder, alleging that she offered or gave another person money and a vehicle to shoot James Kelly and that her actions caused Kelly’s death.  Prior to trial, Appellant filed motions to suppress her statement to the police officers and to move the trial from Nacogdoches County.  The trial court held a hearing on each issue and decided that the statement could be admitted and that the trial should remain in Nacogdoches County.  Appellant was convicted as charged, and the court assessed punishment of life imprisonment.  Following the trial, Appellant filed a motion for new trial, alleging that a juror engaged in misconduct.  The trial court held a hearing and denied the motion for new trial.  This appeal followed.

Custodial Interrogation

In her first issue, Appellant argues that the trial court erred when it overruled her motion to suppress her statement to the police.  Specifically, she argues that she was subjected to a custodial interrogation without being advised of her constitutional rights and that her statement to the police should have been suppressed for that reason. 

Applicable Law and Standard of Review

When the police wish to interrogate a person who is in custody, they must advise the person that she has the right to remain silent, that any statement she makes can be used against her, and that she has a right to an attorney.  Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 1612 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966).1  Generally, the state may not use a statement obtained from the custodial interrogation if these warnings, or their equivalent, are not given.  Id

A person is in “custody” only if, under the circumstances, a reasonable person would believe that her freedom of movement was restrained to the degree associated with a formal arrest.  Herrera v. State, No. PD-1986-05, 2007 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1675, at *9–10 (Tex. Crim. App. Nov. 21, 2007) (citing Dowthitt v. State, 931 S.W.2d 244, 254 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996)); see also Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322, 325, 114 S. Ct. 1526, 1529–30, 128 L. Ed. 2d 293 (1994).2  This test is an objective one.  See Herrera, 2007 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1675, at *10.  The subjective belief of law enforcement officials about whether a person is a suspect is not important unless that belief was somehow conveyed to the person who was questioned.  Herrera, 2007 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1675, at *10.

We review a trial court’s ruling on a motion to suppress in the light most favorable to the ruling.  See State v. Kelly, 204 S.W.3d 808, 818 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006).  The trial court is the trier of fact, and we afford almost total deference to the trial court’s factual conclusions.  See Wiede v. State, 214 S.W.3d 17, 24–25 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).  We afford the same deference to the trial court’s rulings on “application of law to fact questions,” also known as “mixed questions of law and fact,” if the resolution of those questions turns on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor.  Montanez v. State, 195 S.W.3d 101, 106 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006).  We review de novo wholly legal conclusions as well as mixed questions of law and fact that do not turn on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor.  Id.

Analysis

Appellant argues that her statement should have been suppressed because she was in custody  when she was questioned and was not given Miranda warnings until the interrogation had proceeded for some time.  She cites Dowthitt, 931 S.W.2d at 254, for the proposition that the question of whether she was in custody turns on whether probable cause existed at the time of the questioning, the subjective intent of the police, the focus of the police investigation, and the subjective belief of the defendant.

In fact, the court in Dowthitt notes that this subjective test for “custody” has been replaced by an objective test.  Id. at 254–55.  The objective test for whether a person is in custody includes the following factors: (1) whether the suspect is physically deprived of her freedom of action in any significant way, (2) whether a law enforcement officer tells the suspect that she cannot leave, (3) whether law enforcement officers create a situation that would lead a reasonable person to believe that her freedom of movement has been significantly restricted, and (4) whether there is probable cause to arrest, that is “manifested” to the suspect, and law enforcement officers do not tell the suspect that she is free to leave.  Id. at 255; see also Herrera, 2007 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1675, at *9–10.

Applying these factors, we hold that the trial court did not err when it denied Appellant’s motion to suppress.  The initial conversation with Appellant was a voluntary encounter, and Appellant was not in custody.  The police invited Appellant to discuss the matter with them, and they did not restrict her freedom of movement, tell her she could not leave, or arrest her.  The police officer testified that Appellant was given Miranda warnings about twenty minutes into the police interview.  It appears that she was not free to leave after that point.  But before the warnings were given, there was nothing to lead a reasonable person in Appellant’s position to believe that her freedom of movement was restricted. 

Appellant did ask if she could go to attend to funeral arrangements.  That request came early in the conversation, and the police politely told her their questions would not take long.  A reasonable person would conclude, as Appellant apparently did, that this was not a requirement that she stay, but a reassertion that the conversation was a voluntary one and that she would leave the interview at a time of her choosing.  If the police had determined that they had probable cause to arrest Appellant, this information was not conveyed to Appellant before her rights were read to her.  Nor was she confronted with information contrary to her assertions to the police, or accused of being involved in her husband’s murder before the police advised her of her Miranda rights.

Because Appellant was not in custody for the initial part of the interview, the police were not required to give her Miranda warnings before talking to her.  Therefore, the trial court did not err when it denied Appellant’s motion to suppress her statement.3  We overrule Appellant’s first issue.

Pretrial Publicity

In her second issue, Appellant argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for change of venue because of pretrial publicity.

Applicable Law and Standard of Review

A change of venue may be granted in any felony or misdemeanor case punishable by confinement on the written motion of the defendant if there exists in the county where the prosecution is commenced so great a prejudice against the defendant that she cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial.  Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 31.03 (Vernon Supp. 2007).  When ruling on such a motion, the trial court must determine whether the outside influences affecting the “community climate of opinion as to a defendant are inherently suspect.”  Renteria v. State, 206 S.W.3d 689, 709 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006) (citing DeBlanc v. State, 799 S.W.2d 701, 704 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)).  This is not a test of whether there had been publicity about the charged offense.  Id.  Rather, for a defendant to prevail on a motion to change venue, she must demonstrate that publicity about the case is pervasive, prejudicial, and inflammatory to the extent that an “actual, identifiable prejudice attributable to pretrial publicity on the part of the community from which members of the jury will come.”  Id.  The court in Renteria stated that it was a “heavy burden” on the defendant “to prove the existence of such prejudice in the community [and] that the likelihood of obtaining a fair and impartial trial jury is doubtful.”  Id.

We review the court’s ruling on a motion for a change of venue for an abuse of discretion. Renteria, 206 S.W.3d at 709. 

Analysis

This case involved a murder for hire in Nacogdoches County in which Appellant was accused of hiring juveniles to murder her husband.  It received media attention.  By Appellant’s count there were twenty–three articles in the local paper about the story and at least six television news stories, some of which were repeated multiple times. 

But the question for the trial court was not whether there was pretrial publicity.  As the Supreme Court has stated, in the context of a high profile case, “scarcely any of those best qualified to serve as jurors will not have formed some impression or opinion as to the merits of the case.”  Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 722, 81 S. Ct. 1639, 1642, 6 L. Ed. 2d 751 (1961).  We must therefore direct our attention to the evidence to determine if there was an intolerable atmosphere of prejudice.  See Beets v. State, 767 S.W.2d 711, 744 (Tex. Crim. App. 1988) (op. on reh’g).  One way to show that such an atmosphere of prejudice existed is to show that the pretrial media coverage was “pervasive, prejudicial, and inflammatory.”  See Renteria, 206 S.W.3d at 709. 

Appellant argues that there is evidence of such an atmosphere in the record.  Specifically, she points to the quoted statements of Sheriff Kerss.  Sheriff Kerss told the media that Appellant offered to pay to have her husband killed, that the crime was premeditated and ruthlessly carried out, and that Appellant had been trying to have her husband killed for some time.  The first statement is a simple statement of the case.  That Appellant had been trying to accomplish this end for some time and that the crime was premeditated and ruthlessly carried out invite the listener to be prejudiced toward Appellant.  But these statements were isolated.  We were able to locate them only one time each, and the remainder of the media coverage was straightforward and without statements or comments about Appellant’s character or motivation.

On the whole, the media coverage was not the pervasive, prejudicial, and inflammatory coverage that shows a fair and impartial jury could not be obtained.  By contrast, in Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 356–57, 86 S. Ct. 1507, 1518–19, 16 L. Ed. 2d 600 (1966), the Supreme Court overturned a conviction for murder.  That case did involve pretrial publicity that was prejudicial and inflammatory.  The media reported that

“Sheppard had purposely impeded the murder investigation and must be guilty since he had hired a prominent criminal lawyer; that Sheppard was a perjurer; that he had sexual relations with numerous women; that his slain wife had characterized him as a ‘Jekyll-Hyde’; that he was ‘a bare-faced liar’ because of his testimony as to police treatment; and, finally, that a woman convict claimed Sheppard to be the father of her illegitimate child."

Id.  The Court determined that this was the kind of prejudicial and inflammatory publicity that violated the right to due process.

In Irvin, the rural community in which the trial was held had been subjected to a barrage of inflammatory publicity immediately prior to trial, such as information about the defendant’s prior convictions, his confession to twenty-four burglaries and six murders including the one for which he was tried, and his unaccepted offer to plead guilty in order to avoid the death sentence.  Irvin, 366 U.S. at 725–26, 81 S. Ct. at 1644.  As a result, eight of the twelve jurors had formed an opinion that the defendant was guilty before the trial began; some went “so far as to say that it would take evidence to overcome their belief” in his guilt.  Id., 366 U.S. at 728, 81 S. Ct. at 1645.  In these circumstances, the Court found actual prejudice against the petitioner to a degree that rendered a fair trial impossible.  See also Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 724, 726, 83 S. Ct. 1417, 1418–19, 10 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1963) (The Court found that the trial was “but a hollow formality.”  The real trial had occurred when tens of thousands of people, in a community of 150,000, had seen and heard the defendant admit his guilt on television.); Rubenstein v. State, 407 S.W.2d 793, 798 (Tex. Crim. App. 1966) (McDonald, J., concurring) (Due process was violated by jurors who witnessed the crime on television.).

The pretrial publicity in this case does not approach the level of pervasive, prejudicial, and inflammatory pretrial publicity that other courts have found to be violative of due process.  Nor has Appellant shown that she was forced to accept a juror who was influenced by any pretrial publicity.  At the actual seating of the jury panel, many of the venire members had heard of the matter.  But few expressed that they had made a decision, and only four potential jurors expressed that they had formed an opinion about the case.  Three of those jurors were excused, but one served with no objection from Appellant.4  

In Lewis v. State, 654 S.W.2d 483, 484 (Tex. App.–Tyler 1983, pet. ref’d), we held it “significant that Appellant did not object to any juror who was seated.” See also Gardner v. State, 733 S.W.2d 195, 204 (Tex. Crim. App. 1987) (“He does not contend nor does our review of the entire voir dire examination show that he was forced to take an objectionable juror.”).  At least one Texas case has held that a trial court does not abuse its discretion in overruling a motion for change of venue if an objectionable juror serves without objection.  See Jones v. State, 489 S.W.2d 618, 619 (Tex. Crim. App. 1973) (citing Moon v. State, 169 Tex. Crim. 14, 331 S.W.2d 312 (Tex. Crim. App. 1959)).

In sum, the pretrial publicity did not rise to a level that challenged Appellant’s right to a fair trial, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it overruled Appellant’s motion for a change of venue.  We overrule Appellant’s second issue.

Motion for New Trial

In her third issue, Appellant argues that the trial court should have granted her motion for a new trial.

Standard of Review

We review a trial court’s ruling on a motion for new trial for an abuse of discretion.  State v. Herndon, 215 S.W.3d 901, 906 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).  We must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the ruling and presume that all reasonable fact findings were made against the losing party.  See Charles v. State, 146 S.W.3d 204, 208 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004).

Analysis

Appellant filed a motion for new trial.  With her motion, she included affidavits from two witnesses.  The witnesses said in the affidavits that they observed one of the jurors having lunch during a break in the trial, that the juror said things about the trial, and that one of his companions said something about the trial.  A hearing was held on the motion.  One of the affidavit witnesses could not remember hearing much of the juror’s conversation, and the other testified that she heard the statements.  The juror and his lunch companions all testified that the reported part of the conversation did not happen.

Citing Renya v. State, 846 S.W.2d 498, 503 (Tex. App.–Corpus Christi 1993, no pet.), Appellant concedes that when the evidence conflicts, a trial court’s ruling will ordinarily not be disturbed on appeal.  Instead, she argues that the trial court should have granted the motion for new trial because the State did not file affidavits controverting the affidavits she had filed. 

We disagree.  The court in Renya held that the trial court should have granted the motion for new trial because affidavits establishing juror misconduct were not controverted.  But we do not understand Renya to mean that uncontroverted affidavits must be presumed to be true.  The court in Renya relied upon Smith v. State, 530 S.W.2d 827, 829–30 (Tex. Crim. App. 1975), in which the court held that uncontroverted affidavits established a fact when the State’s affidavits did not challenge the relevant assertions.  Renya, 846 S.W.2d at 503.

The holding in Renya is an extension of a logical tool: if a party can, but does not, contest a factual assertion, the conclusion can be drawn that the fact is true.  For example, in Charles v. State, 146 S.W.3d 204, 210 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004), the court of criminal appeals discussed affidavits and drew a distinction between facts that “could have been readily controverted” and those that could not.  Nevertheless, the court concluded that deference was due to the trial court’s factual findings “regardless of whether the affidavits are controverted.”  Id.

The Renya decision does not establish, as Appellant contends, that evidence can be controverted only by affidavits filed prior to a hearing.  The rules provide that the State may controvert a motion for new trial, Tex. R. App. P. 21.5, but also provides for a hearing allowing for presentation of evidence.  Tex. R. App. P. 21.7.  At the hearing the State contradicted the factual assertions made in the affidavits.  All of the juror’s lunch companions as well as the juror in question testified that the relevant conversation did not occur.  The trial court made findings, including which witnesses it found to be credible.  The court found the juror and his lunch companions to be credible and did not make a similar finding for the witnesses who gave affidavits and testified for Appellant. 

The trial court was not required to grant Appellant’s motion for new trial simply because the State did not file affidavits controverting the assertions contained in the affidavits offered by Appellant.  The evidence conflicted, and the trial court’s decision to believe one group of witnesses and not the other was reasonable, was supported by the record, and is a factual determination to which we afford deference.  We overrule Appellant’s third issue.

Disposition

Having overruled Appellant’s three issues, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Brian Hoyle Justice

Opinion delivered January 24, 2008.

Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Griffith, J., and Hoyle, J

*****

1 Texas has incorporated the Miranda warnings into its code of criminal procedure and added additional requirements.  See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.22 (Vernon Supp. 2007).  Appellant argues only that she was not warned as required by Miranda.

2 Appellant argues that Stansberry is analogous to this case.  On remand, the California Supreme Court held that Stansberry was not in custody when he gave a statement to the police.  People v. Stansbury, 889 P.2d 588, 594 (Cal. 1995).

3 At oral argument Appellant contended that the interrogation that preceded the Miranda warnings was unlawful and poisoned the statements made after the warnings were given.  Such tainting is possible, see, e.g., Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600, 604, 124 S. Ct. 2601, 2605, 159 L. Ed. 2d 643 (2004), but is not present in this case because Appellant was not in custody for the first part of the conversation.  Consequently, no illegal custodial interrogation tainted the later questioning.

4 It is not clear whether Appellant had exhausted her peremptory challenges, but she did not request an additional challenge.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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