When a man answered Elaine Knott’s cell phone on the morning of May 2, 2009, it caused Cynthia Bohannon to become concerned about her best friend.
She’d called Knott’s house first, but there was no answer. The women had plans to go shopping together.
Thinking she may have dialed a wrong number, Bohannon hung up. But the man called back using Knott’s phone and said Knott had left her phone with him while she went to the store, Bohannon testified Tuesday in Bibb County Superior Court.
“Elaine wouldn’t loan her phone,” Bohannon said.
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The man, later identified as 38-year-old Courtney Kelly, pleaded guilty to murder in connection with Knott’s death Tuesday after Bohannon and four other witnesses testified in his jury trial. He was sentenced to life in prison and won’t be eligible for parole for 30 years.
After talking with Kelly on the phone, Bohannon and her husband drove from their Jones County home to Knott’s house on San Juan Avenue in Macon. Bohannon found a back door was unlocked, she testified.
Her husband found Knott dead on her living room floor, he testified.
If the trial had continued, a medical examiner would have testified that Knott sustained an injury to the back of her head that may have knocked her unconscious and would have left her unable to defend herself, prosecutor Greg Winters said. The medical examiner also would have said Knott died of strangulation that would have taken between three and four minutes of constant pressure to cause death, he said.
In opening statements, Kelly’s lawyer told the jury Kelly was guilty of theft.
“He did not commit a murder, though,” said Rick Waller, Kelly’s public defender.
Waller pointed to inconsistencies in witnesses’ statements. He told the jury there wouldn’t be any DNA, blood, fiber or fingerprint evidence.
Kelly spoke softly as he entered his plea. He didn’t say anything in his defense.
Sonya Johnson, Kelly’s girlfriend, testified Tuesday that Kelly left their home on San Juan Avenue between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. May 2, 2009.
She said she saw him walk up the road toward Knott’s house, located just a few houses away.
“I watched him make this quick right into a yard, driveway,” Johnson testified. “I stood at the door and stayed on the sofa until about 5 a.m.”
She then went to bed. Kelly returned home at about 8 a.m., she said.
“He was tired. He was sweating bad,” Johnson said.
Johnson testified she initially thought Kelly had been having sex with another woman while he was away, but at some point he started rambling and telling her that he thought he’d killed a woman.
When she walked into her living room, she found several items that didn’t belong to her — a TV, pocketbook and a checkbook, she testified.
Ashley Cooper, a special assistant district attorney working on the case, told the jury in opening statements that Courtney Kelly visited Knott’s home twice on the night of May 1, 2009, and early morning hours of May 2, 2009.
He killed her on the first visit and then returned to take two flat screen TVs, her purse, checkbook and cell phone, she said.
Kelly also wrote a check from Knott’s checkbook and went to a check-cashing business that night to cash it, Cooper said.
She told jurors the check would be presented as evidence during the trial.
Jackie Kelly, Courtney Kelly’s cousin who also lives on San Juan Avenue, said he awoke to find police cars parked up and down his street on May 2, 2009.
At some point that morning, he talked to Johnson who asked him to take the stolen items out of her house and put them in the trash.
“She didn’t tell me where it came from,” Kelly testified.
He said he went to the house Johnson shared with his cousin and only found a wallet on the sofa.
He took the wallet with a plan of giving it to Johnson but was stopped by police before he could leave Johnson’s yard, Kelly testified.
Kelly identified the wallet, a piece of evidence, in the courtroom Tuesday. At a prosecutor’s instruction, he read Elaine Knott’s name aloud from checks packaged with the wallet.
Kelly also testified that his cousin told him he’d taken Knott’s car while she slept and came back to find a door open and Knott on the floor. His cousin said he tried to stop the bleeding, but then left. He said he didn’t kill Knott, Kelly testified.
When asked why he didn’t tell police about the conversation with his cousin, Kelly said police didn’t ask.
Jackie Kelly admitted he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in 2007 while being questioned by the defense.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.