Day 3 of murder trial: Defense witnesses say victim threatened suspect

Day 3 of murder trial: Defense witnesses say victim threatened suspect

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - During Day 3 of the murder trial of a Zavalla man who is accused of stabbing Jesse Keller to death in May of 2015, a family member of the victim described the day his nephew died and said that he would have killed the suspect and left him in a body bag if he had gotten his hands on him.

Tommy Lee Granger, 28, is being tried for first-degree murder in Judge Bob Inselmann's 217th Judicial District Court.

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.

Walter Metcalf Jr. started Wednesday's testimony. Metcalf is the uncle of the victim.

Metcalf said on the night of the alleged murder he had gotten to the home right before things went down. Metcalf said he went to the home to get some clothes before he went to his girlfriend's house.

Metcalf said he was almost hit by Granger's truck when he left the property. Metcalf said he then saw Keller on the ground.

"I heard them say it was Jessie," Metcalf said. "Ronnie [Mitchell] was back there holding him and trying to get him up."

Metcalf said no one was trying to do CPR and they were just trying to pick him up.

"I got over there, and he couldn't breathe, so I started to do CPR," Metcalf said. "There were two stab wounds on his chest."

Metcalf said he asked a family member on the property to call 911 but somehow the call was ended. Metcalf said he then asked someone to run down the road and get help.

Metcalf said there was blood all over Mitchell's truck. He did admit to the prosecution that he had heard the Keller and his wife had talked about divorce, but he knew Keller loved his wife, no matter what.

Metcalf said he was trying to get him in a vehicle and take him to a Jasper hospital but admitted he was asked by 911 to not pick him up.

Metcalf told Al Charanza, Granger's defense attorney, that he busted the window of the truck that Granger drove off in. Metcalf said he used his fist to break the window.

During his testimony, Metcalf also said felt like Keller was held down somehow when he was stabbed.

Metcalf admitted to Charanza that he told the sheriff deputies that he would have killed Granger and left him in a body bag if he had gotten his hands on him.

"An eye for an eye," Metcalf said. "I love that boy like he was my own. I would trade spots with him if I could."
Stephanie Davidson with the ACSO described her involvement with the case.

Davidson said she was called to the scene to take photographs of the scene. She went through several photos that show a trail of blood.

Davidson said when she is on scene she is just interested in getting photographs that appear important. She said she does not concern herself with whose blood it is.

Davidson also identified physical evidence she collected from the scene.

Davidson said any markings on the car would be hard for her to tell if it came from inside or outside of the truck Granger was in.

Former Angelina County Deputy Chris Wade told the prosecution that he was called out to the area.

Wade said he was told the name of the suspect and vehicle and that he possibly left the U.S. Highway 69 area and went out towards the lake on Highway 147. Wade said he is very familiar with the area because he was raised in Zavalla and still lived down there.

"I got back into town and received a call from the fire department that they believed they were following the suspect," Wade said.

Wade told the jury he caught up to the vehicle and ran the plate, and it came back to Granger.

Wade conducted a traffic stop and took Granger into custody. He said that two other deputies took Granger to the jail.

Wade said Mitchell called him and said he was in fear for Granger's life. Mitchell also told Wade if the authorities didn't find him before people at "the compound" did, then he might die.

Wade told Charanza he first heard of the murder from Captain Alton Lenderman and then later on got the call from Mitchell. Wade told Charanza that Mitchell had his number because it is a small town, and everyone knows everyone.

Wade said when he took Granger into custody he found a knife.

"I asked if he had anything on him and he said a knife," Wade said. "I asked if this was the one, and he said no."

After looking at his report, Wade said Granger told him that he threw the knife down but did not say where.

Angelina County Sheriff Sgt. Harold Rapsilver with the Angelina County Sheriff's Office started the afternoon testimony.

Rapsilver said he was first notified by Paul Bickerstaff with the sheriff's office about a stabbing. He then notified other deputies.

Rapsilver said deputies found a cell phone at the scene and tried to retrieve information from the phone after he got a search warrant.  The software the department had at the time did not work with the phone that they tried to get information off of, Rapsilver said.

Former detective Paul Bickerstaff said he was involved at the scene that night with gathering evidence including two cell phones. He also said he talked to several people. Bickerstaff said he had Granger's cell phone and needed a pass code, so he requested it from Charanza and got a response pretty fast.

Bickerstaff testified that he believes Granger did the crime because he was commonly there and he had his truck there with access to leave at any time, so if he wanted to leave during an argument, he could have.

Bickerstaff did say that someone had the right to protect themselves if they are being attacked. However, he didn't say that deadly force is allowed if no weapon is used.

The issue of Granger possibly being with Keller's wife was then brought up again. Bickerstaff said if someone was seeing his wife, then he would be upset to and he might harm the person as well.

The first witness for the defense was Jennifer Copeland, the wife of Ronnie Mitchell. Copeland was around the area on the days leading up to the incident.

Copeland said that Keller and his wife were in an on and off again relationship, and she would leave and go with other people then come back. She also said Granger and Keller's wife were friends.

Copeland said that Keller and his wife got in a big fight the day before that they did not want people to know about.

Copeland then recalled a conversation she had with Granger.

"He said, 'Man I hope Ronnie doesn't stay mad at me," Copeland said. "I said, 'It is not Ronnie you need to worry about. It is Jessie.' And I said, 'Just remember if Jessie doesn't have a gun, he has a knife.'"

Copeland said she also heard a voice mail to Granger from Keller that said, "I'm going to kill you."

Copeland said Granger is one of the nicest people she had ever met, and he would only get upset when he talked about his dad dying.

"I have never heard him raise his voice in the seven years I've known him," Copeland said.

Copeland said that Keller could be the nicest guy you met. but when it came to his wife, he was crazy about her and was very protective. Copeland said Keller even got mad at Metcalf one time about his wife.

Copeland said Granger had Keller's wife's clothes because he knew that Jessie Keller was upset at his wife and that he did not like women getting mistreated. She said he reached out to help because he is her friend.

Copeland said she felt Keller was provoked by his wife to do something to Granger because he would not buy dope for her.

"She said, 'When Tommy goes back to that compound he is going to get what's coming to him,'" Copeland said.

Copeland told the state that she thought Granger would not go to the compound if he knew that Keller was going to be there.

Shannon Walker then took the stand. Walker would sometimes get Granger to help him with his job. Walker said that in the weeks leading up to the incident, Granger came up to him and said some guy was threatening his life.

Granger's brother Trey took the stand. Trey said Granger reached out to him several times about threats.

"He needed to borrow my chainsaw, so he came to my house and he said he was being threatened," Trey Granger said.

Trey could not remember any names until Charanza told him Mitchell and Keller. Trey said he also believed that his brother would never sleep with another man's wife.

"He was the guy that would give you the shirt off of his back," Trey said. "Tommy has never been scared before. I thought it was interesting the way he was scared and saying his life was in danger. I told him to try and avoid the situation."

Trey said his brother was a real friendly person and was never in a bad mood.

Former ACSO Detective Pat Nichols then answered questions.  Nichols said he transported Granger to the jail the night he was stopped by Wade. Nichols said Granger was nervous and did not talk much.

The state then rested.Copyright 2016 KTRE. All rights reserved.