Retrial for Zavalla man accused in stabbing death gets underway

Retrial for Zavalla man accused in stabbing death gets underway
Tommy Granger (Source: Angelina County Jail)
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The first day of retrial for Tommy Lee Granger, who is accused in the 2015 stabbing death of 34-year-old Jesse Keller began with opening arguments from the state and defense.

Granger, 29, of Zavalla, is being re-tried for first-degree murder in Judge Bob Inselmann's 217th Judicial District Court. Back in September, an Angelina County jury deadlocked on a verdict, and Inselmann declared a mistrial.

Deborah Moore, one of the prosecutors on the case, explained background information on the victim saying he had a family, and children, but his marriage was in jeopardy around the time of his death.

"Keller had been married for 15 years, he had five children ranging from age 17 to age nine," Moore said. "Now, over the course of those years they had some issues. Their marriage wasn't perfect."

Moore explained the altercation that took place the night Keller died. She said Keller approached Granger at a residence known as 'the compound.'"
"They were arguing back and forth, and then Keller punched him in the jaw, but he wasn't armed," Moore said. "Next, Granger pulled out an unsheathed knife and stabbed him, not once, not twice, but three times in the abdomen."

Al Charanza, Granger's defense attorney, began the defense opening arguments by explaining that evidence would support Granger acted out of self-defense, and the only people who committed a crime in this instance were the men he feels attacked Granger.

"I think you are going to hear through evidence that Jesse Keller was a very jealous man, if you were running around with his wife you better be ready to deal with Jesse," Charanza said.

The defense explained that Granger stabbed Keller because he was being threatened, attacked, and acted out of self-defense. Charanza said evidence would show that drugs were involved. Leading up to the stabbing, Keller's wife, Rachael Keller was staying with other people because the two were separated.

"Tommy Granger was attacked, and knew he would leave in a hearse or an ambulance. We believe the evidence is going to show that he is fleeing, in self-defense," Charanza said. "What we intend to show you is that Tommy Granger acted as a reasonable person in defending himself using whatever means necessary to save his own life."

Jill Kelly was the first person to take the stand for the state. She was a dispatcher who received the phone call the night Keller died, and the state played the 911 call reporting someone had been stabbed. You can hear a man originally on the phone, before it is handed to a woman. The sound of motorcycles, and screaming could be heard in that phone call.
In cross-examination, Charanza asked Kelly to explain the order in which she dispatched emergency personal. The first to arrive on scene was logged at responding at approximately 7:51 p.m.

Alan Stanton, a trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety, took the stand next to explain a diagram of the compound he made to represent the crime scene. He arrived on the crime scene approximately 2:00 a.m. and was there to help design a graphical representation of the murder scene. 
In cross examination, Al Charanza asked Stanton to explain the inaccuracies that could occur in the graph when arriving to a crime scene after the body has been removed.

Mark Cox, the victim's brother-in-law, took the stand next, and explained that ever since Keller's death, his two sons were in his care. He then explained Keller's character.

"The Jesse I knew was a good man, honest, he was full of laughter. He worked hard, and took care of his family," Cox said. "Jesse loved his children, and he loved his wife."

Cox explained that within the last couple of years, Keller's wife, Rachael changed for the worse. He attributed this to drugs that he believed her to be getting from Walter Metcalf, Keller's uncle.

Moore asked if he noticed the same change in Keller, to which he answered no. Moore then asked Cox to explain what he remembers about the events leading up to Keller's death.

"We got a call that Jesse and Rachael were fighting and that she was trying to break into his house, and he didn't want her there," Cox said. "My wife and I drove to his house, and we said we would get her to leave if he wanted."

Cox recalled telling Keller that if he loved his wife and children than it was time to take them and leave town in order for things to work between them. 
In cross-examination, Charanza asked Cox to explain that Keller had been living with his family at an RV park while Keller and his wife were separated.

"During the two months you mentioned Rachael had been staying with Walter Metcalf, Jesse's uncle, and that he was a known drug user?" Charanza said.  "She was also staying with other men, maybe running around on her husband."

Cox verified that was correct, but said since the two were separated Keller had been turning his life around. He said he was not drinking as much, and wanted to do better.

"There was meth in his blood system at the time of the autopsy," Charanza said. "That doesn't sound like the same Jesse Keller that I hear you explaining."
Charanza then asked Cox to recall a time that Keller was driving in a vehicle with the windows smashed out.

"He didn't want his vehicle to be used to running drugs around, and his car was at another man's house, so he slashed his tired, and broke the windows," Cox said. "He didn't want his car used to get drugs."

The victim's wife, Rachael Keller took the stand and said she remembers her husband as a friendly, outgoing man. The state asked her to think back to May of 2015, and the events that happened leading up to his death. She said she was staying at a friend's house at the same time the defendant, Tommy Granger was.

The state asked her to explain the relationship she and Granger had saying they were only friends, but then recalled a night they slept on the same couch together.

"I got a sense he was wanting a little more. He just had his arm around me," Rachael Keller said.  "We were just friends, or I thought he was my friend, until what he did."

In cross-examination Charanza asked Rachael Keller to recall the reason the two were separated before Keller died. Rachael Keller said Child Protective Services was called because they heard of her and her husband's meth use. When asked to recall where her children were enrolled in school at the time, she said she couldn't remember because she was using drugs then.

She was asked to explain how Keller treated her before he died.

"We argued, but everyone argues. I don't know what you mean by being hateful. When he yelled, I would yell, too," Rachael Keller said. "I did consider divorcing him because he was always gone."

Charanza asked Rachael Keller to explain her relationship with Metcalf, Keller's uncle, whom she was said to have been with before the night Keller died. She said was sexually involved with him once, and stayed at his house sometimes.

The night before Keller died, Rachael Keller said she left the place she was staying with Granger to go to her friend Jennifer's house. She said she left her clothes in Granger's car before walking several houses down.

Court recessed for lunch, and Rachael Keller will return to the stand following this break.

Rachael Keller's testimony resumed following recess. The defense asked Rachael Keller if she was under the influence of any drugs.

"You are a bit slow. I mean you are having trouble remembering things that I thought you would have remembered," Charanza said. "I understand your husband died, but this is taking longer because you are having trouble remembering things. Are you under the influence of anything?"

Rachael Keller said she was not, and that she typically has trouble remembering even recent events. Charanza continued asking where their five children were during the time of the stabbing.

"I don't remember, probably because I had a drug problem," Rachael Keller said. "Jesse had a drug problem, too, and so does Tommy."

Rachael Keller said the afternoon of her husband's death Ronnie Mitchell, Jesse Keller, and she were smoking methamphetamine. She said it was odd that Mitchell was with them because they were not friends. Rachael Keller said he was trying to convince Jesse to go to the compound with him.

"Ronnie said he thought someone was sleeping around with his wife, and he was telling Jesse, 'If you want the clothes back now is the time to get it.'" Rachael Keller said. "After that, I left and went down to the RV park to get my son, but when I got back, Ronnie was upset and said, 'You better get to Walter's.'"

She then drove to the compound where someone informed her that Jesse had died. Rachael Keller was visibly upset when she was asked to recall who comforted her at the scene of the stabbing.

The state redirected the witness and asked if she had ever done drugs with Granger to which she said she had.

The state then called Ronnie Mitchell to the stand. He said at the time of Keller's death he was jealous of Granger because he thought he was sharing drugs with his girlfriend.

"I didn't think they were sleeping together, but you never know where one thing can lead to another," Mitchell said.

He said until the time of Keller's death he had not seen Jesse in six months. He recounted what he remembers from the day Keller was killed, and said he began drinking earlier in the morning, when Jesse and Rachael came over for a few hours.

"They left after a while, and me and my son went to go drop something off, and that's when I saw Jesse and picked him up," Mitchell said. "When we got back to the compound, we saw Tommy's truck, and Jesse tried to block him in."

He recounted how Tommy walked outside to leave, and Jesse called out to him.

"He said, 'Come here boy. Where's my lady's clothes?' This is when I saw Jesse hit him, so I started to get out of the truck to stop it," Mitchell said. "As I was going to get out I saw him trying to pull the knife out of Jesse."

Mitchell continued that after they saw Keller was stabbed, he performed CPR.

In cross-examination, Mitchell said he saw Rachael Keller the day after she stayed with Granger, which happened to be the day before her husband died. He said she was screaming because Granger would not give her drugs, or let her have her clothes back.

This is one of the many times Rachael Keller and Ronnie Mitchell's stories did not match. He said he did not recall smoking meth with Jesse and Rachael and said Jesse was the one who wanted to go to the compound. This also contradicted what Rachael Keller testified; she said she left before the two went to the compound.

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