Witnesses tell conflicting stories during Day 2 of Zavalla man's murder trial

Witnesses tell conflicting stories during Day 2 of Zavalla man's murder trial
Tommy Granger (Source: Angelina County Jail)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - During the second day of the retrial for the Zavalla man accused in the 2015 stabbing death of Jesse Keller, the state called numerous people that were at "the compound" on day of the incident to testify.
One witness testified that he heard a gunshot and said that, at first, he thought Tommy Lee Granger, the suspect in the case, had shot someone.

Granger, 29 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.

To begin the second day of the retrial, Patrick Nichols, a former detective with the Angelina County Sheriff's Office, was called briefly by the defense to testify outside the presence of the jury.

The defense asked him to explain his involvement in the May 2015 stabbing, to which he answered that he interviewed Granger after he was apprehended.

In the presence of the jury, the state called Nichols back to the stand and asked him to explain Granger's demeanor during that interview.

"He seemed upset," Nichols said.

After the state passed the witness, Louis Douglass Smith took the stand next. He was asked to explain his involvement in the stabbing that took place outside of his trailer.

"Tommy had been over. We were about to eat pizza. Then we saw Ronnie pull up and 10-15 minutes later, Tommy left, and I heard a gunshot and ran outside," Smith said. "They told me not to let him leave, so I ran to his car, but his car was locked, and when I tried to bust the window out, I cut the end of my little finger off."

He explained at first when he got outside he thought Granger had shot someone named Cory, which is why he tried to stop him from leaving. He said he was not aware Jesse Keller was even there.

In cross-examination, Charanza asked Smith to explain who else was present. He answered others were there. The defense presented photographs of the crime scene known as, "the compound."

"My trailer was right there, and those circles are showing the trail of my blood leading all the way to my trailer right there," Smith said.

Smith explained he met Granger through Ronnie Mitchell, who testified Monday to seeing Granger stab Keller. He said he heard Mitchell threaten to find Tommy and kill him.

"From what I understand, Ronnie was shooting at Tommy and thought his girl was running around with him," Smith said.

Charanza asked him to then step through what exactly happened after he thought Cory was shot.

"Ronnie pulled up, but never came inside. We made some joke about him finding something to bring us. He always thinks he needs to bring something when he comes," Smith said.

Some time later, Smith said Granger announced he was leaving. After he left he heard squealing noises outside he thought were coming from Mitchell.

"After I heard the gunshots, I ran outside and tried to catch up to his truck. That's when I smashed the windows out," Smith said. "Cory left on a motorcycle to get a lady we know that's a nurse, but she wasn't home."

During Mitchell's testimony Monday, he explained he attempted to do CPR on Keller and said he shut his eyes when he realized he didn't make it. Charanza questioned Smith about these events.

"Ronnie didn't do any kind of CPR. Walter did, and we were just trying to find a nurse," Smith said.

Charanza asked Smith if he moved anything at the crime scene.

"What I am wondering is why Jesse Keller's cell phone was found over here, buried under some leaves so far away from his body?", Charanza asked.

Smith became upset and said this was the first time he heard about a cellphone. He asked why Charanza was accusing him of doing this. Charanza said he wasn't accusing him, but wanted to know what happened. He asked if Mitchell seemed impaired the night of the stabbing.

"Ronnie Mitchell always seems like he is impaired, but that's just Ronnie Mitchell.," Smith said. "He was just squealing and running around, and then he took off saying he was going to kill Tommy."

Cody Wood took the stand following Smith and said he was at the compound the day of the stabbing. He explained he was speaking to Walter Metcalf when Jesse Keller and Mitchell pulled up.

"He said, 'He stabbed me,' and I said, 'who?' and he said Tommy," Wood said. "That's when I shouted at the first person I saw to hurry and call for an ambulance."

He said he heard a gunshot before he saw Jesse and that's what alerted him something was wrong. He said he witnessed Metcalf and Smith going toward Granger's truck.

In cross-examination, Charanza used a graphical representation of the compound and asked him to explain what he saw and heard after the gunshot went off.

"I never really focused on Ronnie. I don't know what he was doing during this," Wood said.

Walter Metcalf took the stand next. On Monday, several witnesses testified that Metcalf was a known drug user, and immediately after taking the stand, he said he has been in trouble for the delivery of a controlled substance.  He then spoke about the person Keller was before he died.

"Jesse was my nephew. He loved his kids. He was so good with those kids; they were his world," Metcalf said. "Sure we would fight, but it wasn't anything, like fighting with your brother."

He said the night of the stabbing he was only at the compound to pick up clothes before leaving for the night.

"I knew something was going on because earlier that week, Rachael was hanging out with Tommy, so I knew something had to have been happening," Metcalf said. "I was picking something up from my house and I saw Ronnie pull up and didn't think anything of it."

He said he was walking to someone's trailer when he heard a gunshot.

"I rounded the corner and saw someone stuck the butt of the gun in the truck, and that's when Cory said, 'Don't let him leave,'" Metcalf said. "This guy is getting in the truck with a gun. I thought he shot someone, and if Ronnie hadn't jumped on my back, I would have gotten him to stop."

Charanza asked him about what he and Doug Smith discussed outside of the courtroom today.

"Weren't you given a court order to not speak to anyone outside of this courtroom? And then you went outside and spoke to Doug Smith about what went on during his testimony?" Charanza said.

Metcalf explained that Smith was upset at the way his questioning went.

"He said you were calling him a liar and wasn't real happy about the questions, and I mean my whole family isn't talking to me right now because they think I have something to do with this," Metcalf said.

After the state and defense passed the witness, court recessed for lunch.

Following recess Dr. John Wayne, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Jesse Keller, took the stand. The state asked Wayne to explain the injuries he found on Keller's body.

"There were two wounds on the sternum, and breast bone, and then the other stab wound is on Mr. Keller's left side," Wayne said. "Another stab wound was found to be in the left lower part of the abdomen."

Wayne explained other bruising found on Keller's body at the time of death.

"Bruising was found to be on his right thigh, which most likely happened before the time of death," Wayne said. "Also, on the victims hand there was bruising along the knuckles."

Deborah Moore, an attorney for the state presented a diagram of a human body where the injuries found on Keller were illustrated in numbering the stab wounds and bruising. She asked him to report how Keller was stabbed.

"The direction, based on the standard anatomic position, was left to right, front to back, and slightly down," Wayne said. "I concluded, one of the stab wounds penetrated the wall around the heart, but did not penetrate the heart completely through."

Some of the most severe stab wounds were recorded to be three to four inches deep; two of the three wounds were recorded to be lethal.

"Would the bruising around these stab wounds have been from the hilt of the knife burying it so deep it caused additional bruising seen around the entrance wound" Moore asked to which Wayne said it was possible.

Wayne was questioned about the toxically reports sent in from Keller's autopsy, to which he said he did test positive for meth. The state asked if the drugs caused or contributed to the cause of death to which Wayne said it did not.

"We found that one of the blood vessels in his heart was severely clogged, but we do not feel this contributed to the cause of death," Wayne said.

Wayne reported that the official cause of death was found to be stab wounds at the torso, where Keller suffered the most severe injuries.

In cross-examination, Charanza asked Wayne if the bruising found to be around the stab wounds could have been caused by Keller falling into the blade of the knife, instead of from the hilt of the blade as the state insinuated. He said this was a possibility.

Charanza then asked if the amount of methamphetamine and amphetamine found to be in Keller's toxicology report was a significant amount. He said Keller's blood was in the toxic levels during his time of death.

The state redirected the witness.

"Can the use of methamphetamine make someone grab a knife and stab someone," Moore asked for her final question of Wayne. He said he did not know.

ACSO deputy Ray Stubbs took the stand next, and said he was the first law enforcement on the scene of the stabbing May of 2015.

"The first thing I saw was two white females crouching over a white male who was laying flat on his back," Stubbs said. "Next I asked if the two females had a pulse, and a man on the phone said he was talking to EMS."

Stubbs explained one person at the scene was causing a problem, and he radioed for more officers to help maintain crowed control. However, due to SWAT training only three units were available the night of the stabbing.

In cross-examination, Stubbs identified Metcalf as the individual causing problems at the scene of the crime. He asked Stubbs if he saw anyone moving objects around the crime scene.

"To my knowledge nothing was moved," Stubbs said. "I did not see a knife out there."

State and defense passed the witness, and Stephanie Davidson who handled the evidence took the stand. Using photographs presented to the jury, and a graph of the crime scene, she stepped through the evidence collected from the victim.

"We went through the victims pockets, and photographed everything found," Davidson said. "Later on we did find a knife in the inside door of a car parked on the scene."

Photographs of that knife, and a smashed cell phone were shown to the jury. The state presented the photographs taken from Granger's car where on the side of his vehicle a firearm was found with blood around the seat, and a gunshot hole through the floor.

"You can see on the passenger side door where there is a firearm under the seat, and then blood droplets on the seat," Davidson said.

The state asked if she remembered two shell casings recovered from the car, and she said she did not recall.

In cross-examination Charanza clarified there was not blood found on the driver's side of the car, to which she confirmed. He asked if Ronnie Mitchell's truck was photographed.

"We were told his truck was at a certain location, but could not find it so we did not photograph it," Davidson said.

Charanza showed photographs of Mitchell's truck that showed obvious blood stains down the side of the door. Charanza asked if the knife found was in Metcalf's truck, she said it was. At this time, this knife has not been clearly identified as the murder weapon.

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