- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The state Court of Appeals has denied arguments from a Byram man who argued he didn’t get a fair trial in the beating death of a handyman.

Police in the Jackson suburb of Ridgeland said 50-year-old Kerry Priscock was found bludgeoned to death in 2011. They say they believe the homeless man was targeted for the money he earned working odd-jobs and for his minivan.

Jonathan Keen, now 31, was convicted in 2012. He was sentenced to life without parole.

Keen’s attorney argued a Madison County judge made procedural errors that inhibited the defense’s case.

Ridgeland police said the body of Priscock, a painter and handyman, was found on Oct. 11, 2011, in his minivan in Jackson. A coroner said Priscock appeared to have been dead for several days and died from blows to the head. His empty wallet was found at the scene.

According to court records, prosecutors say Keen struck Priscock with a claw hammer at a marina on the Ross Barnett Reservoir, then placed his body in the minivan and abandoned the vehicle in Jackson. Prosecutors say Keen originally planned to sell the minivan to pay off a drug debt.

Keen was indicted on capital murder, robbery and motor vehicle theft. In Mississippi, capital murder is defined as a killing committed with another crime. In this case, it was robbery.

Circuit Judge John Emfinger allowed prosecutors to drop the motor vehicle theft count. Prosecutors said they did not want to violate Keen’s double-jeopardy rights “because the minivan was the subject of both the robbery and the vehicle theft.”

Keen’s attorney argued the judge’s action denied Keen a fair trial because the van theft was tied to the killing by the judge, not by the grand jury indictment. That decision, the attorney said, exposed Keen to possible conviction on different facts than he was indicted for.

Prosecutors said Keen was charged with stealing from Priscock during the killing. They said it didn’t matter if he took the money or the van - the defense had to defend evidence of both thefts.

The Appeals Court, in Tuesday’s decision, said Keen was charged with robbery and prosecutors were not required to identify what was taken in a capital murder indictment.

“That Keen initially believed that the state’s theory of the case was that he had robbed Priscock of Priscock’s cash, and not his van, changes nothing. Moreover, the evidence established that Keen robbed Priscock of several items, including Priscock’s cash, clothes, beer, and van, any one of which would have been sufficient to constitute robbery,” Appeals Judge Tyree Irving said.

Irving said Keen could have learned which item was taken in the robbery by asking prosecutors.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide