This report aired Dateline Friday, May 2, 2008
RUSSELVILLE, Ark. — Once upon a time, in a small town in Arkansas, in the hills that roll down from the Ozark mountains, there was a small sweet girl. She was tiny, and lovely, with the gift of a great golden voice.
Margie Huckaby: Opens her mouth and this song comes out of her that—you just don’t think can come out of this small little vessel of a person.
Carol Dirksmeyer, Nona's mother: She was a soprano. But, it was a voice that was very full.
Amazing, how that petite, innocent person produced such a sound. Her name was Nona Dirksmeyer. She was a beauty pageant queen and already bruised by the undertow of a difficult secret.
Kevin Jones, Nona's boyfriend: Real personal things.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: What’d she tell you?
Kevin Jones: That her father had sexually molested her when she was young.
This is her boyfriend. Kevin Jones.
By now her much older father was dead, and she was left to struggle.
Kevin Jones: It was so hard for her to be happy.
She told him she felt ugly. She didn’t see what her friends saw when they suggested she enter beauty pageants.
Kevin Jones: She didn’t really care about the prestige of being Miss Arkansas or Miss something. She just wanted to find a way to enlighten other people about what happens to children who are sexually abused.
That’s what went into her speeches at the beauty pageants.
Kevin Jones: It was better than any feeling that I’ve ever had, you know just to make her happy.
A troubled Juliet, and her Romeo, riding the complications of teenage love.
They squabbled, broke up, dated others, kissed and made up... and now, though Kevin had gone away to college, they were talking marriage.
Kevin Jones: But we didn’t make it official because we were both poor.
It was, actually, not quite like Romeo and Juliet. Not yet, anyway.
For one thing, they lived in different towns. They had met in kindergarten in Little Dover, grew up there... Then she moved with her mother 20 miles away to larger Russellville.
Besides, before all this, their families seemed to like each other.
Carol Dirksmeyer: I liked him. He seemed to be a really caring person.
Nona’s mother, Carol.
Carol Dirksmeyer: Kevin was really interested in helping Nona get through some of these hard times she was having.
Janice Jones: They just seemed very happy together.
Janice is Kevin’s mother, Hiram, his father.
Hiram Jones: Nona was part of the family. We had a Thanksgivin’ dinner, Nona was there. You know, we had Sunday cookout, and Nona was there. It was Kevin and Nona.
Nona and Kevin.
They hung around with Nona’s best friend Chelsea.
Margie Huckaby, Chelsea’s mother: I think Kevin was really there for her.
Margie was the first adult to hear about the abuse.
She’s the one who helped Nona tell her mother that poisonous secret—that Nona’s own biological father, now dead had sexually abused her and that Nona had taken to cutting herself.
Margie Huckaby: I think that’s hard to do, to tell your parent that. You know it’s gonna devastate them.
Carol Dirksmeyer: It was horrible. It’s such the end of my world. I just couldn’t believe something like that would happen. But I knew enough to know that she was telling the truth.
Carol, by the way, had also been trying to put life back together. After Nona’s father died, Carol took up with Duane Dipert and married him.
Duane Dipert, Nona's stepfather: My relationship with Nona, I think, if I were to describe was distant, yet cordial. It wasn’t my job to raise Nona.
Nona had been alone with Carol for years. When Duane came along she moved out, got her own apartment. Close by, but separate.
Duane admits his rules may have had something to do with that.
Duane Dipert: I’m a ‘90s type of guy. But, unfortunately, for the kids, I’m an 1890s type of guy. You know? And the doors are locked are 10 p.m.. So, they better be back at 9 p.m.
Morrison: That’s a strict rule?
Duane Dipert: Well, yeah, nothing good happening after 10:00 at night as far as I’m concerned.
Yes, but as everybody knows, the day can be darkest in morning.
It was Christmas time, 2005.
Kevin, home from college, went directly to Nona’s apartment and spent an evening there.
He drove home, Russelville to Dover just after midnight.
Kevin Jones: I called her when I got home, because that was our routine. I’d call her and tell her that I got home safe.
Next morning, a Thursday, he slept in, woke up, turned on his phone.
Kevin Jones: She had sent me a text message like we usually did in the morning—back and forth.
The message was this: “good morning cuddle muffin. i love you and hope youhave a great day”
It wasn’t going to be, of course. But neither she nor he knew that yet.
Her plan, in fact, was to spend the evening with a little girl; she was a member of the Big Sisters’ organization. His plan was to take his mother to a teachers’ Christmas party. She was the school librarian.
Janice Jones: He made a joke about, “Is there an open bar? I’d like to see some of my former teachers a little tipsy.”
And then, during the day, something strange: Kevin says he couldn’t reach Nona on the phone.
Kevin Jones: It struck me as very odd that she was not answering or returning the calls, because in four and a half years, we had made a pattern.
Kevin Jones: And that’s what we did every day.
He sent her a text message. "You alive?" He asked...
Early evening, as Kevin and his mother set out for their Christmas party, he was increasingly troubled.
Where was she? Why didn’t she answer?
From the car, Kevin called a friend, a pizza delivery man named Ryan. He asked Ryan to drive by Nona’s place and check on her.
Kevin Jones: You know, “Her upstairs light is on, but she’s not answering her door.” And I said, “Okay, well I’m gonna come over there.”
And now their fates whirled toward them, and they drove through their rising tide of panic to Nona’s apartment.
Kevin Jones: I realized I didn’t have my keys. And Ryan and I knocked and knocked and rang the doorbell, and nobody came. And we started to get a little frantic.
There was another door. A sliding glass door at the back. They ran for it.
Kevin Jones: But I didn’t think we’d be able to get in ‘cause she always kept a stick in it to hold it shut.
But the stick wasn’t there.
Kevin Jones: And so when I was grabbing the handle, Ryan touched me. And he said, “Do you not see her?”
On the floor inside, was Nona. Naked. Still.
Kevin Jones: I grabbed the door handle and I pulled it open. I had a lot of adrenaline.
He ran in there, he says, turned her over and picked her up.
Janice Jones: She just had her socks on, little white socks.
Kevin Jones: All I could think about was, “I need to get her to a hospital.” And everything that happened was just kind of a blur.
He tried CPR, he says.
Kevin Jones: There was blood on her face. And her eyes were closed. And there was a puddle of blood underneath her head
Morrison: Did you think she was alive?
Kevin Jones: I wouldn’t let it enter my head that she wasn’t, that there wasn’t some way to save her.
Janice was standing there beside them, in shock, calling 911.
Janice Jones: And he just lifted her in his arms and held her to him as if he were warming her.
And then the ambulance arrived. And the police.
Janice Jones: Then I heard him cry out. And he asked them if someone had done this to her. And they told him yes. And then he asked them if she was dead. And they affirmed that, yes, she was.
Before long, Nona’s mother Carol arrived.
Carol Dirksmeyer: It was just a big shock. Devestating. It was awful.
And then, the police drove Kevin down to the station.
“Just a few questions,” they said.
“Just a few questions,“ about Nona.
Carol Dirksmeyer: I told them I wanted to see my baby. It was awful. Of course they said ‘you can’t.’ They had the crime scene tape up.
By the time Carol Dirksmeyer got to her daughter Nona’s apartment, the grim investigation had begun.
It was murder all right. Nona had been stripped naked, an empty condom wrapper was lying on a counter a few feet away. But there was no physical evidence she had been raped. Her head had been smashed, apparently with the heavy base of a lamp lying nearby. And whoever struck the fatal blow had first used his fist to hit her face so hard it left bruising on her brain, then, had stabbed her repeatedly, shallow cuts around her neck and shoulders. And then, before swinging the lamp base, had strangled her with such force he broke the hyoid bone in her neck.
But her mother Carol wasn’t allowed past police lines to see her, she didn’t know all that yet.
Kevin Jones: And I remember her saying that she wished she would have been the one to find her so she could hold her one last time.
But it is perhaps a cruel necessity that murder investigations take priority over family rituals. And in the hours after he found Nona, Kevin went downtown to answer a routine slate of police questions.
Well, not, perhaps, entirely routine; the session was videotaped.
The questions were: What happened? How is it he found her body they asked? Where had he been all day? He was not a suspect, they told him. Still, they had to ask. And ask. And ask.
Kevin Jones: They’d leave me there in the room.. They would ask me questions.
They kept him here for 3 hours.
Then, that night he went to see Nona’s mother.
Kevin Jones: She wanted me to come and make funeral arrangements with them, which we did. And she wanted me to pick out the clothes that Nona would be wearing for the visitation.
It was six days after the murder when Kevin prepared himself to be with Nona’s family at the funeral home.
Kevin called police that morning to tell them about rumors that a man was seen leaving Nona’s place the day of the murder.
And, while he was on the line, the police asked if perhaps he could come downtown again. Some more questions, just a few, they told him. He’d be done before the visitation, they assured him of that…
Kevin Jones: And after about 20 minutes worth of questions, they asked me if I’d take a polygraph test to rule me out, ‘cause they wanted to start ruling people out. And they wanted me to be the first one.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: What’d you say?
Kevin Jones: I said, “Sure.”
And so they strapped him up and ran through the innocuous questions.. And then...?
Police: Did you cause the death of Nona Dirksmeyer?
Morrison: And then they went out analyzed it, came back, and said what?
Examiner: I never have seen anybody fail a test as bad as you did.
Kevin Jones: The man who gave it to me told me that he has not seen anybody fail a test worse in his 28 years of giving lie detector tests.
Examiner: Kevin, there’s no doubt in my mind that you killed her.
Failed? Shock would be too mild a word, said Kevin. They told him he had the right to a lawyer. He declined.
Morrison: Why didn’t you ask for one?
Kevin Jones: At that time it seemed to me that if you asked for a lawyer, it looks like you have something to hide.
Kevin says that instead, he tried to convince them he was innocent, it was all a big mistake. But..
Kevin Jones: At this point, it wasn’t really a questioning. It was more of them yelling at me telling me they knew that I did it.
By that time both families had arrived here at the funeral home for a visitation service for Nona and an hour went by, and two hours, four hours.... six hours went by. Still no Kevin. Where was he? Why so long at the police station? And at that moment, said Nona’s stepfather Duane, for him at least, the penny dropped.
Duane Dipert: And all the sudden, it kinda—like a light bulb going off in my head. I said, “You know, wouldn’t it be funny if it’s the boyfriend?”
Kevin’s parents felt a change in the wind, too.
Morrison: I gather this is the first time you’re thinking oh, my God… They think it’s him.
Janice Jones: Yeah. This was another whole new reality.
And Nona’s mother Carol received some surprise visitors.
Carol Dirksmeyer: It was like 11:30. Between 11:30 and 12:00 at night. I didn’t think Kevin had anything to do with it until the police actually told me.
The boy she’d come to love as a future son-in-law, said the police, had brutally murdered her only daughter Nona.
The murder of Nona Dirksmeyer was a dreadful shock to the town of Russellville, Arkansas.
A sweet, shy beauty queen, with a nightingale voice and a heart as big as the whole town wasn’t supposed to die. And certainly not this way.
And so the question of who had done this or why.
There was an assumed an immediate urgency as the assistant prosecutor, Jeff Phillips, said.
Jeff Phillips: I think whoever did was a monster and I think the defense would agree with me on that.
Dreadful though it was, the case was assigned to a detective who had never before conducted a murder investigation: Mark Frost.
And Frost was confronted by a few problems. For one thing, of course, Kevin Jones, Nona’s boyfriend - had seriously compromised the evidence by lying on, hugging and holding her body.
And it didn’t help matters when a slew of paramedics and cops descended on the scene, touching and moving potential evidence.
The condom wrapper found a few feet away from the body... is that where a killer put it? And Nona’s cell phone..the battery was missing, and somebody—a cop, maybe? Or a paramedic? -Had picked it up and put it on a table.
Still, over the course of a week, police believed, the crime and the criminal came fully into view.
It was Kevin. He’d created an elaborate cover-up by using his mother and friend to help find the body.
He’d left that condom wrapper as a ruse to make it look like a stranger raped and killed Nona.
When all along, it was him; a boyfriend’s rage.
Kevin, police told Carol, had discovered Nona’s betrayal. That she had been intimate with another man.
Carol Dirksmeyer: And I guess he just let his rage get away with him and he couldn’t control himself and it’s still hard to understand something like that..
Even through her shock about that news, she remembers what they told her about the boy who would have been her son-in-law.
Carol Dirksmeyer: The first thing that I was told was that he was a sociopath with a narcissistic personality.
And so, at the funeral, carol was watching Kevin with new eyes.
Carol Dirksmeyer: I knew he’d done it. I knew in my heart it was someone she knew. She would never let anyone in the apartment that she didn’t know.
The same day, then Police Chief James Bacon had a press conference. We have conclusively cleared all but one of these people.
The police did not name the suspect, but before long almost everyone in Russellville knew who it was.
Kevin, the boy from Dover, that town down the road.
There was suspicion, but no arrest.
Morrison: You’ve been a bear in defense of your family,
Duke Dirksmeyer: I will continue to be a bear in defense.
By that time, Duke Dirksmeyer, the patriarch of what had been Carol and Nona’s family, arrived from Texas to offer his support.
Duke Dirksmeyer: It’s my obligation.
And pretty soon, Duke saw something that seemed to him very wrong indeed.
When he drove past the most popular restaurant in Dover, the Bayou Bridge Care…
Duke Dirksmeyer: There’s a reader-board sign out. “Kevin, we support and we love you.” Well, Nona ate there. Nona went there. Why wasn’t it put on the reader-board, “Nona and Kevin, we love you, we support you?”
Then, when Kevin’s mother went to Russellville, she was startled by bumper stickers: ‘Justice for Nona.’
Janice Jones: The assumption that I formed and I think many people formed was that “Justice for Nona” meant—
Morrison: Convict Kevin.
Janice Jones: --convict Kevin.
And before long, gossip and speculation starting flying around on the Internet. Vicious stuff, a lot of it.
In the tiny community of Dover, where Kevin’s family was known and liked, stories in the local weekly newspaper seemed balanced, at least to Kevin’s family...
Nona’s stepfather Duane Dipert did not take the same view, at all.
Duane Dipert: The Dover Times is a rag. We use toilet paper here instead of the Dover Times.
And thus began a newspaper war in small town Arkansas, though it was really no contest...
The Courier didn’t name Kevin Jones as a suspect, but published an overwhelming number of stories on the investigation and in Russellville. It was quite clear who the prime suspect was.
Duke Dirksmeyer: The Russellville press has been phenomenal. Very straight, very forward. And unbiased and extremely fair.
Except, of course, in the eyes of a shrinking minority, led by Kevin’s parents who believed he was innocent of Nona’s murder.
Hiram Jones: They tried, convicted, and sentenced Kevin within 90 days of its happening. And if you was a stranger walkin’ in a coffee shop, visiting Russellville and you read that, what would you think?
This is what appeared in the Russellville Courier 3 months after Nona’s murder: ”Nona’s killer remains free.” And “Russellville police department has requested formal charges against one person.”
And everyone knew who that was.
On March 31, 2006, police finally did announce the arrest of Kevin Jones for the murder of Nona Dirksmeyer.
Whether or not Kevin was convicted in the press was now, apparently, irrelevant.
Because the evidence made public included what seemed to amount to a smoking gun: Kevin’s palm print in Nona’s blood was on the very lamp that was used to kill her. And as the family patriarch, Duke Dirksmeyer, watched it go to trial, he too felt satisfied that it was a good case.
Duke Dirksmeyer: I felt it was a slam dunk. We had a guilty verdict.
Of all the topics that have stirred things up around Russellville and Dover, Arkansas, few touched so many as the case of the murdered beauty, Nona Dirksmeyer.
Bill Bristow: This case probably had more statewide publicity than any criminal case in many, many years, perhaps ever in Arkansas.
So it was no big surprise when the defense claimed the Courier had poisoned local opinion. They asked for and won a change of venue and the trial was moved a county away, to a town better known for its scenic river views and its excellent barbecue.
And here they found a jury to try Kevin Jones for murder in the first degree.
And so the trial finally began, here in the solid old court house in the little town of Ozark. It was a good 20, 30 miles beyond the reach of the Russellville Courier and the wagging tongues of those two little towns. But when jurors arrived on the first day of trial, what should they see, sitting right here, but a newspaper box for the Russellville Courier. And every day there’d be some headline staring at observers as they came to watch the trial.
Not here now as you can see now, because, the day after the trial was over, as mysteriously and suddenly as it appeared, the newspaper box...vanished.
Jeff Phillips, assistant prosecutor: If you let it, it consumed you.
A case, as assistant prosecutor Jeff Phillips would tell the Ozark jury, of a jealous boyfriend’s rage.
Phillips: The morning of her death Kevin Jones came in unexpectedly.
It would have been easy for Kevin to arrive at Nona’s apartment unannounced, said the prosecutor. He had a key.
Phillips: While there, discovered either a text message from another person and or a used condom wrapped on a counter, and things escalated from there, escalated outta control.
As for the condom wrapper, police were unable to get any prints from it to determine whose it might have been.
But, having discovered a betrayal, said the state, Kevin flew into a homicidal rage.
Phillips: He beat her, he stabbed her, and he ultimately caused her death with the base of a lamp, the weighted base of a lamp. It was rage and passion.
In the heat of which, said the prosecution, Kevin left a perfectly identifiable palm print, in Nona’s blood, on the lamp which had been used to kill her. Not on the heavy base of the lamp, but up at the top, on the bulb.
Morrison: No question it was his?
Phillips: No question it was his. The defense didn’t even make an issue that it was his.
That new homicide investigator Mark Frost recovered the palm print from the light bulb, and determined it was left there at the time of the murder, and not later that evening when Kevin, his mother and a friend found Nona’s body.
Phillips: In my opinion, an intentional attempt to have someone else find her but him.
Lying on her body, holding her, said the prosecution, was an intentional effort to ruin the evidence at the crime scene. And in fact, police found precious little useful evidence.
But that night, when police questioned Kevin, they didn’t think they were getting straight answers. Especially about his alibi, which, said the investigator, seemed to come together late and a little too conveniently.
And he failed that polygraph. Not admissible in court, of course.. But the jury did see this tape, which, said the prosecutor, showed Kevin’s capacity for anger and violence.
Just the same, claimed the prosecutors, to give Kevin the benefit of the doubt, they looked at other possible perpetrators too.
Phillips: Somebody was asking me who all the suspects were.
And I asked them, “What were you doing the night that she died?” Because, everyone was a suspect with any type of connection.
But, he says, they all had alibis, every one of Nona’s other male friends..
Even Duane Dipert, Nona’s stepfather, testified that he just happened to be Christmas shopping that day...and had the receipts to prove it.
Duane Dipert: This time I was at this store, this time I was at this store. And that’s the time Nona was being murdered.
Besides, as Carol said about Duane...
Carol Dirksmeyer: And I told him that day, I said, “You called me like eight or ten times,” which was unusual at work. He hardly ever calls me at work.
And where was Kevin that day?
On the morning of the murder, said the prosecution, Kevin could have left his house in Dover around 10:30am, when a plumber last saw him there.
And then, for an hour and a half, cell phone silence.
Well, he wasn’t talking to Nona. In fact, his text message to her wasn’t sent until late afternoon, and it said: “you alive?”
Carol Dirksmeyer: He had been thinking about this all day.
The prosecution’s timeline:
10:30 -- Kevin leaves Dover for Nona’s place in Russellville.
10:55 -- He lets himself in the apartment, argues with Nona, kills her, leaves his palm print on the light bulb.
11:10 -- Stages the crime scene with that condom wrapper..
11:15 -- Drives away, back to Doverm, arriving back around noon.
Carol Dirksmeyer: I think the first time anyone saw him probably was when he went to the Bayou Bridge Café around 12:30 to 1:00.
There was one little wrinkle in the prosecution’s timeline, however, and it was this: Kevin’s grandmother came to court to testify that she saw him, plain as day, at the family gas station at 11:30 that morning. She gave him lunch money, she said.
And if that was true, Kevin would not have had time to drive to and from Nona’s apartment, let alone kill her.
Unless you believed, as the prosecution did, that:
Morrison: She lied.
Phillips: In my opinion, she did.
But sitting across the courtroom, as all this went on, were three accomplished defense attorneys.
And Duke Dirksmeyer began to worry, just a little, about the case against Kevin Jones.
Duke Dirksmeyer: I said, “a very good defense team could pull off an O.J. Simpson situation in this whole trial.”
Michael Robbins, Kevin Jones' attorney: When you’ve got something that was this—this serious, this bad, this girl was brutally murdered—
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Somebody’s gotta pay.
Michael Robbins:Somebody has to pay.
Kevin Jones’s lawyers were well aware of what his father Hiram already knew all too well: most of Russellville had come to believe Kevin was guilty.
Kenny Johnson, Jones' attorney: It was just a nightmare.
So Hiram bet the farm, literally, on a trio of well known and respected lawyers — Michael Robins, Kenny Johnson and Bill Bristow.
Kenny Johnson: First off I was impressed with ‘em.
With Kevin, that is, said Kenny Johnson.
Johnson: His open reaction to questions, his volunteering information. He volunteered his D.N.A., volunteered his blood.
But when Bristow and the others looked carefully at the case, they were intrigued. There was only one piece of evidence at all: The bloody palm print on the light bulb.
A bloody print left there in the late morning by a murderer? Why, no… as the defense would claim.
Bill Bristow, attorney: It is a totally innocent situation. The blood got on the light bulb at the time the body was discovered when he’s trying to—
Morrison: —revive her or something?
Morrison: He touched the light bulb?
Bristow: Yeah. The EMT said the lamp was within a foot of the body.
As they poked around, said the lawyers, they kept finding odd things about the investigation conducted by that first time homicide detective, Mark Frost…
Bristow: The only area that was fingerprinted was the area around the body, there was—blood near the front door, there was blood on the Venetian blinds—an empty condom wrapper a short distance from the body. The police go upstairs to see if that’s been flushed, do not fingerprint the flush handle at the commode, don’t DNA that, don’t DNA anything up there. There was nothing done except just in the area around the body.
Nor was that bloody palm print the only evidence on the lamp whose heavy base was used to kill Nona. Turned out police had lifted some fingerprints from the base of that lamp, too...
Kenny Johnson: And the prints that were on the business end of the murder weapon, the rod and base, were not Kevin Jones’ prints.
Morrison: They were some unidentified person?
Defense: Some unidentified.
Might have been DNA. There, and other places, too... but..
Johnson: None of that was done. None of that was done. We did it. We tried. We found the DNA. We sent the prophylactic wrapper off to a lab and they found the DNA. It was like it didn’t matter. The DNA was some other male’s.
Then there was the strange business of Nona’s cell phone. It was at the scene of the murder, but the battery was missing.
The murderer must have taken the battery, must have handled the phone, said the defense, but it was never checked for prints or DNA.
Kenny Johnson: And so it’s a vital piece of evidence. Could have been tested for fingerprints, for DNA.
The defense asked for months to get a look at the phone, perhaps check its electronic history to see who Nona had been texting, or talking to, but when they finally got the phone, and took it to a forensic expert t out the information, they discovered that its memory had been erased.
And that’s when the state admits that they had given the cell phone to Nona’s stepfather, Duane Dipert. Everything had been erased totally.
The investigator had given the phone to Duane, claiming there was no more information to be gained from it.
Michael Robbins: They did not do everything they could with the phone.
And why would Duane take Nona’s phone? Simple, he said. He needed a phone. He was frugal.
Duane Dipert, Nona's stepfather: I had fought for several months how to get my old phone onto this other contract and be efficient about it.
Frugality? The defense, suspecting a darker reason, jumped all over that..
Michael Robbins: don’t believe that he got it because he’s—
Morrison: You think—
Morrison: --he erased that intentionally.
Robbins: I think—yes, I do.
Duane, quite vigorously, denied that.
But losing the phone’s memory was a blow because, even though phone company experts were able to retrieve the messages sent to Nona, her responses, which might have identified a suspect, had been lost forever..
And then there were Kevin’s hands. A defense expert testified the killer would have sustained cuts and bruises in the attack on Nona, but...
Kenny Johnson: The police took photographs of Kevin, front and back of his hands, took his shirt off. Kevin didn’t have a scratch, bruise, or an abrasion on him.
And what about that polygraph test. Remember what Kevin said the examiner told him?
Kevin Jones: He had not seen anybody fail a test worse in his 28 or some odd years of giving lie detector tests.
Well, the defense said it checked the polygrapher’s record.
Robbins: The person that was, that administered the test. He wasn’t a certified polygraph examiner.
Johnson: It was an attempt to get him to confess. That’s all it was.
Is that what was going on here? The prosecution had introduced this video of the interrogation... said it showed Kevin to be aggressive, possibly violent.
But that prosecution tactic may have backfired. Because the defense had the jury look at all three hours of the tape... and they watched a young man who looked mostly lost, and confused and stricken with grief.
So, in the end, it all seemed to come down to Kevin’s grandmother. The woman who testified that she saw him at the family’s gas station at just about the time the prosecution claimed he was 20 miles away, killing his girlfriend.
The jury, composed of the good citizens of Ozark, knew that down the road in Russellville, these questions were hotly debated. And thus they retired to contemplate the murder of Nona Dirksmeyer.
Kim, juror: I just could not turn my mind off, what am I missing? What am I going to do?
To say the jurors in the Kevin Jones murder trial were profoundly troubled by the death of Nona Dirksmeyer would be an understatement.
There were five jurors: the Spanish teacher, the single mom, the horse rancher, the retired waitress, the nurse. All said they became quite passionate about the case.
Kim, juror: You could just feel everybody wanting to get it right.
In the courtroom, they knew, watching was a grieving mother...
Carol Dirksmeyer, mother: Seeing this trial, I’m 100 percent convinced that he did it.
And down the road, a town was watching too which was largely convinced of Kevin’s guilt.
But was he guilty?
The jury looked very carefully, they said, at every scrap of evidence they were offered. Even used their own bodies to recreate the murder scene in Nona’s living room which helped, they said to figure out what happened.
Kim, juror: And I played the part.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Whoever killed her almost tortured her first.
Juror: Yes, he did.
Juror: Kind of like he played with her. He tried to install fear
Who else but Kevin could it have been?
Kim, juror: Blood all over him in the pictures.
Elaine, juror: The palm print in her blood.
But in spite of that, the state’s evidence began to trouble them.
Elaine, juror: I was disturbed because they did not gather all the evidence.
What happened, they wondered, in that investigation?
Elaine, juror: The glass door, for example, where the perpetrator went out was not fingerprinted inside or out. The kitchen floor would have been excellent for footprints. He obviously walked across there, no prints were taken. The water faucets, where they would turn them on to, wash up, none of that was fingerprinted. The kitchen table? Nothing. Basically all they fingerprinted was the murder weapon.
Instead, said the jurors, the police focused on Kevin almost right away.
Juror: Just a little bit of tunnel vision.
Elaine, juror: How can they expect you to convict someone when someone else’s fingerprints that they do not identify are on the murder weapon?
Why, they wondered, didn’t police look more carefully at other possible suspects?
Morrison: The police claimed that they had checked the alibis of all these potential suspects.
Kevin, juror: As well as they gathered evidence?
What about the grandmother? Did she lie as the prosecution claimed? Did she create an alibi to protect Kevin? How credible was she?
Carol, juror: Very.
Kevin, juror: Very believable.
But it was the tape. The prosecution’s introduction of that interrogation tape in its effort to convict Kevin that truly did backfire.
Carol, juror: That was the most horrific tape I ever saw in my life.
Kevin, juror: He couldn’t even wipe his eyes because he had—
Carol, juror: And he still had the blood all over him.
Kim, juror: I felt bad inside that I was watching him in this little cubicle of a room.
Still, the jurors said, it was the evidence... Or rather, the lack of evidence against Kevin Jones, which convinced them.
Elaine, juror: And it simply said he didn’t do it.
And so, after 8 hours of deliberation, they walked back into the courtroom.
Kevin, juror: I stared at Kevin Jones right in the eyes.
Female juror: I did too.
And pronounced him not guilty.
And right there in the courtroom, an emotional dam burst.
Officials separated the two families as they left the courtroom.
Duke Dirksmeyer: And I would like to ask the jury, would you allow your daughter to date Kevin Jones?
Well, actually, said jurors, based on what they saw in the trial...they liked Kevin. Though they still found themselves explaining their decision to a skeptical public.
Russellville may still be unconvinced. The Courier ran a new series of articles, incuding one with this headline: “A verdict without justice.”
Duane Dipert: I'd like to tell Kevin, I said, you know 'It would really help Carol’s closure if he really man up and tell us what really happened.'
Carol Dirksmeyer: If you think somebody else did it, why aren’t you out there trying to find ‘em?
Well, in fact, Kevin’s lawyers say they are conducting their own search for the killer.
And Kevin? Seems to know that some people will never be persuaded.
Kevin Jones: I know exactly what it feels like to have people think you did something that you didn’t do, and I wouldn’t ever wish that on anyone else. I still sometimes have dreams with her in it... and it's like she’s right there.
But for now, the question hangs, here in the green rolling hills of Arkansas: Will there ever be justice for Nona?
A special prosecutor has now been appointed to the case. And, recently, Kevin Jones' defense team gave prosecutors what it says is new evidence. The defense says it is optimistic about the outcome.
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