Trial for Zavalla man accused in 2015 stabbing death begins

Trial for Zavalla man accused in 2015 stabbing death begins

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - During the first day of the jury trial for a Zavalla man who is accused in the 2015 stabbing death of Jesse Keller, 34, the prosecution stated that the suspect in the case had been living with the victim's wife at the time of the murder.

Tommy Lee Granger, 28, is being tried for first-degree murder in Judge Bob Inselmann's 217the Judicial District Court. Jesse Keller was stabbed to death on May 21, 2015 after he and Granger got into an argument that escalated into a fight, according to the Angelina County Sheriff's Office.

In her opening statements, prosecutor Deborah Moore told the jury that Jesse Keller was a father of five and that at the time of his murder, he was separated from Rachel Keller, his wife. She added that Granger had Rachael Keller's clothes in his truck on the day that Jesse Keller was killed.

Moore also said that Granger and Rachael Keller were living together when Jesse Keller was stabbed to death. The prosecutor also told the jury that surveillance video will show that Granger was at an area of homes in Angelina County commonly referred to as "the compound" on the day of the stabbing.
Moore said when Granger left the scene, he didn't think to tell police what had happened.

During his opening statements, Al Charanza, Granger's defense attorney, said that Granger stabbed Keller in self-defense because he was being ambushed.

"This is not a case about murder," Charanza said. "This is a case about ambush."

The defense attorney argued that although Granger had Rachael Keller's clothes in his truck, the two of them were just friends.

Charanza said that Jesse Keller sent threatening messages to Granger in the days leading up to the stabbing.

The defense attorney told the jury that on the day of the stabbing, Granger approached the truck Jesse Keller was in because he thought it was Ronnie, his friend. When Jesse got out of the truck, the two men started to argue, Charanza said.

"Jesse Keller struck first," Charanza said.

Charanza alleged that Jesse Keller was high on methamphetamine and said that Granger was defending himself when he stabbed the other man.
At one point, Granger tried to get away, and Jesse Keller's associate attacked his truck, Charanza said. The defense attorney said that Granger didn't know that he had hurt Jesse Keller that badly.

"You can see the remorse and regret in Tommy," Charanza said.

The state then called its first witness to the stand. Mark Cox, Jesse Keller's brother-in-law, said that on the last time he saw Jesse Keller, he was planning on working things out with his wife and leaving town. Cox described his brother-in-law as a family man who loved his kids.

Cox said Rachael Keller didn't look well when he saw her while she was separated from Jesse and it looked as if she hadn't bathed.

Both Rachael and Jesse Keller told Cox they got back together after being separated for three weeks.

Cox recalled Jesse telling him that he wanted to get Rachael out of the house she was living in with Tommy.

"If you love her, you need to make it work," Cox said, recounting the advice he gave to Jesse. "She went from being a great mom to hardly taking care of her kids the way she should."

Cox also said Rachael Keller was running around with different men.

Rachael Keller was the second witness.

Rachael Keller broke down while on the stand before she could answer a question. When she began to answer questions she nervously held herself and fought back tears as she recalled the days before Jesse Keller's death.

Rachael told the jury she stayed at Walter's and then moved with Mike Jordan and Tommy Granger in Zavalla. She denied sleeping with Tommy Granger and said she only liked him as a friend. However, she said Tommy liked her more than a friend.

"We slept on the couch together one night, and he got a little friendly," Rachael said.

She said she had an argument with Granger at the residence and walked to her friend Jennifer's house.

Rachael said she smoked meth with Jesse and other friends.

Days before Jesse's death, Rachael stayed at Jesse's house after getting into an argument with Granger. She recalled staying with Jesse the night before his death.

DLater Monday, the prosecution played chilling audio from the 911 call.

On the audio, people could be heard in the background frantically yelling at the woman on the phone who is communicating with dispatch.

Law enforcement officers arrived on the scene at 8:13 p.m.

The state's next witness, Douglas Smith, said he remembers Tommy and a woman named Mary stopping by his house the night of the stabbing.

Smith said he was talking to Mary when he heard a gunshot go off. At that point he walked outside he saw Ronnie's truck.

Smith said he initially thought his friend Corey had been shot.

Smith didn't know that Jesse Keller had been stabbed at that time. However, when Smith saw Jesse Keller it was like something he's never seen, he said. Smith said told Walter to give him CPR.

"Jesse was dead before an ambulance got there," Smith said.

Smith admitted to throwing a hammer into the back of Tommy's truck and trying to get into the truck, which caused his finger to get cut.

The defense later asked Smith questions pertaining to Tommy and Rachael's relationship.

"He told me he liked her. He never said he loved her," Smith said.

Corey Wood was the next witness to take the stand.

Wood said he saw Jesse Keller stumbling and bleeding. At that moment Wood told Mary to call 911.

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