This report airs Dateline Monday, August 16, 10 p.m./9C.
They seem tame somehow, gentle – the rivers that wind slow and sweet and safe in their lush green banks around Nashville, Tennessee. Who’d have dreamed that so lovely a thing would throw up this violent catastrophe from its hidden depths?
Of course, you can never really know, can you – what a river will do, or a person, or even a golden couple, when the storm comes.
MAGGIE ST.FRANCIS: It all seemed really, really good, and she was really beautiful and I felt like that, you know, they were gonna be able to do somethin' fantastic together.
Jim Cannon and Kelley Sanders – Maggie St. Francis knew them well. Admired them, too. But who wouldn't?
MAGGIE ST.FRANCIS: He's probably one of the funniest people you ever meet. So personable… he had a big character about him. And, you know, he would just be—always extend the hand, ‘Hey, you know, how are you?’
And her? Well... How did he get so lucky?
DIANE SANDERS: She was prom queen. She did very well in school. She was very athletic. And she was a cheerleader.
This is her mother, Diane Sanders.
KEITH MORRISON: So, you must have been very proud of her.
DIANE SANDERS: I was extremely proud of her.
And if he wasn't quite as tall and handsome as some, he more than made up for it; he was smart, funny, unpretentious.
Amy Huston liked both of them.
AMY HUSTON: He was just a down to earth guy. He enjoyed people, and would talk to anybody.
Mind you, he'd suffered a few false starts: An early marriage and divorce. He'd been a lawyer for a time, and then made a very unlucky investment in a failed pancake house. In fact, he was bankrupt when he met the lovely Kelley … but she didn't seem to mind.
MAGGIE ST.FRANCIS: Oh, she was very fun and vivacious and—and it was all good.
Vivacious? Fun? Oh yes. And… a lotta drive.
After college – that was back in 1989 – Kelley applied for a PR writing job at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Pam Brady was impressed by Kelley's resume and her determination.
PAMELA JO BRADY: She would call about four or five times a week, but she was always so polite when she called… Well, she never met a stranger. Everybody just thought she was as beautiful inside as she on the outside.
KEITH MORRISON: I love that expression, ‘She never met a stranger.’
PAMELA JO BRADY: She was just very sweet, very Southern..
Bright and charming enough to land a job next in the Tennessee Governor's press office... and then, when the Governor left office, she decided to enroll in medical school like her father and two brothers had done.
DIANE SANDERS: She just absolutely didn't like it. And it wasn't her gift.
And that's when she met him - fresh from her med school mistake. And that was that. Jim and Kelley: Together in Nashville, still in their 20s and full of life and optimism.
AMY HUSTON: He was very serious about her, and—you know, he r—he loved her.
Though, frankly, a few of their friends – a minority really – didn't quite understand the engagement.
PAMELA JO BRADY: They were a little bit of a mismatch.
KEITH MORRISON: She was lovely, willowy, and gorgeous, and…
PAMELA JO BRADY: Yeah, he was kind of—you know, plain.
KEITH MORRISON: And she was in love with him, as far as you could tell?
PAMELA JO BRADY: They seemed very much in love, absolutely.
DIANE SANDERS: I think it was a point in her life where she had done all these things and she—she kinda lost herself there for awhile.
KEITH MORRISON: That medical school turn—
DIANE SANDERS: Yeah. And then that's when she met with him. And he was just standin' in the right place at the right time…even though he was bankrupt. And we're just goin', ‘I don't know.’ [laughs] But—I kept my mouth closed. I'm just the mother-in-law.
They were married in ‘96. Lavish, it was... The honeymoon was epic. They were cute. They laughed, they partied, they skied, fell down and laughed again.
For Jim, Kelley came on like a good luck charm. He charged out of bankruptcy, and opened a company whose business was collecting bad debt for hospitals. “Medical Reimbursements of America," he called it. And that, said John Hollins, the attorney who'd soon become a very good friend – that was a gold mine.
JOHN HOLLINS: He started from literally the ground floor, with nothing and—and—and grew it to a very successful corporation.
Did he make enemies along the way? Perhaps he did. Like the ex-partner who spread word that Jim had cheated him out of a quarter of a million dollars. And, according to her friend Pam, Kelley tended to believe the partner. Pam says Kelley told her she was worried about the ill will that Jim had generated.
PAMELA JO BRADY: She said, ‘Jim was really screwing him over.’ And she said, ‘You know, these people, they can't be happy about it.’ And I said, ‘Well, I guess not.’
Still, Jim had become a man who knew what he wanted, and one of those things, said Kelley and her family, was a stay-at-home wife. As Jim’s business grew more successful, Kelley – at Jim’s urging – abandoned her own career, stayed home to look after their house and him and work on a family.
MAGGIE ST.FRANCIS: In the beginnin', I think she really tried hard to—to do—whatever it is she felt like she needed to do to have a happy home, a beautiful home, a healthy home.
Or so it seemed, to look at the golden sheen on surface of things... But it wasn't long before whispers began to trickle around town about secrets being kept, secrets that fed a gathering storm... Would it threaten their marriage?
Oh yes. But that, as you'll see, might turn out to be the least of it.
PAMELA JO BRADY: It was like a shark that smelled blood. He starts doing everything that he can to make himself look like a saint and his wife look like a crazy woman.
If a person had gone looking for the first real sign of trouble, Jim and Kelley Cannon's friends said, they might have found it in the house – the big lovely one that came with Jim’s new success. Though, as Kelley's mother could see, it was a big lovely piece of work, too.
DIANE SANDERS: It was definitely a fixer-upper. And she did every bit of that herself.
Made it her job to turn the house into a showcase – no easy task, what with their busy social life and their baby, little Isaac, born in 1999.
But it was Jim who so wanted that house. And maybe, she told her friend Pam, maybe it was just too much...
PAMELA JO BRADY: She said, ‘I wish we just stayed where we were...’
Then one day, while Kelley was in mid-renovation, she fell, injured her back. The doctor prescribed powerful pain pills... And she liked them. A lot. She tried a treatment program in 2003.
And then, for a while at least, it seemed to work. They had another son. Then, in 2006, a daughter, baby number three, was born. Their friend, Maggie St. Francis, watched all this, saw how the new child seemed to trigger old problems.
MAGGIE ST.FRANCIS: Before that baby was born she'd had trouble with drugs and alcohol then, and then that just set it off.
DIANE SANDERS: She was takin' too many, and especially when she found out about the affair, she started really usin'.
The affair? Yes. They'd been married a decade by then; it was the summer of 2007. He wasn't very careful. She found out.
KEITH MORRISON: Did he admit to the affair?
DIANE SANDERS: First he lied. And then later she just—later on, he did finally admit it.
It was after that when Kelley sought out the psychiatrist and began taking medication for depression.
DIANE SANDERS: She would just be drowsy and just wanna sleep all the time. She lived off Cokes for the caffeine, you know, the buzz to keep goin'.
And Jim? Seemed to love her still, said his friends.
JOHN HOLLINS: Hesaid she loved her children and wanted to be a good mother, but they had to have nannies to take the children to school 'cause she just couldn't manage the children in the mornings.
But Kelley's version of life inside the big house? When Kelley called her late at night, said her friend Pam, the conversation was sometimes a little disturbing.
PAMELA JO BRADY: She said, ‘I have to wait till Jim's asleep.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ ‘Oh well, you know how he is.’
KEITH MORRISON: ‘You know how he is?’
PAMELA JO BRADY: You know, he just kind of wants to keep her to himself.
And then, says Pamela, one night when she was on the phone with Kelley, Jim walked into the room.
PAMELA JO BRADY: He yelled at her, ‘Who are you talking to?’ And she said, ‘Jim, I'm talking to Pam.’ And he just ripped the phone out of the wall…
KEITH MORRISON: So—line went dead?
PAMELA JO BRADY: The line went dead. You ever know anybody that, they're perfectly nice people, until they're given a little power, or given a little money and power, and then they're tyrants? She was very intimidated by him.
Maybe that fueled her substance issues, which she struggled to keep under control.
MAGGIE ST. FRANCIS: She would say, ‘Oh, I'm not drinking now,’ or, ‘I've been seein' my psychiatrist,’ or, ‘I've been doin' this or working out or try—' you know. She would always tell me what she was tryin' to do to, you know, keep it together.
They fought passionately. And, with surprising frequency, one of them would reach for the phone.
DIANE SANDERS: We used to laugh about it and said, ‘They call 911 as much as I change my underwear over there.’
But here's how it worked: Kelley called 911 in fits of rage. Jim had a law degree; he knew how to turn the anger to his advantage, so said Kelley's mother. An example? A furious spat one day in the kitchen.
DIANE SANDERS: He took the—the fork and knife drawer and all the silverware and everything, went down on the floor. And she called 911. She reached down to pick up the flatware off the floor.
KEITH MORRISON: This is when she's on the phone with 911?
DIANE SANDERS: Yeah.
KEITH MORRISON: So, they can hear all of it.
DIANE SANDERS: And so, he's yelling, ‘Put the knife down. Put down the knife.’ Well, the cops come and they're—who do they take away? They took her away because she was threatening him with a knife.
KEITH MORRISON: Well, she wasn't.
DIANE SANDERS: She said she wasn't.
By the spring of 2008, after over ten years of marriage, both of them had contacted divorce attorneys. And then both… backed off.
PAMELA JO BRADY: She wanted so desperately to work it out that she told that attorney to just hold off.
JOHN HOLLINS: He did not want a divorce. He absolutely gave her chance after chance after chance to, as he said, get straightened out
And then, it was May of that year. An argument escalated outside on the driveway. Kelley was beyond furious. And, this time, it was Jim who called 911.
JIM CANNON: She's having a psychotic break…She attacked me and hit the car. Its' so pitiful, so friggin' pitiful. Now she's got the baby, now she's trying to leave. Don't leave, Kelley. She's threatening me right now…she's a lunatic. She's putting the baby in car, Ford and Isaac, move away, do not get in the car. Absolutely not. Get away from me, Kelley, get away.
This is what happened next – or so Jim told his friend, now attorney, John Hollins:
JOHN HOLLINS: She grabbed the—the youngest child, put her in her car in the backseat, and backed up over one of the children's bicycles and rammed Mr. Cannon's car and then took off on down the road. And then, she sped up to about 70 miles an hour through a residential neighborhood.
But Kelley told her mother it didn't happen that way; it was all blown out of proportion.
DIANE SANDERS: She was just upset. But he made her look crazy, she's outta control. That was his favorite thing to say was that she's out of control. Well, I never saw her outta control.
But on the 911 tape was only Jim’s version of the story. Who were the responding police to believe – the pill-popping housewife or the successful businessman?
JOHN HOLLINS: They arrested her at that time, charged her with felony evading arrest, felony child endangerment and I think assault against Mr. Cannon.
This time, Jim told his friends, Kelley had gone too far. This time the children had been involved.
JOHN HOLLINS: He sent me an email, I think that week that said, ‘Stick a fork in me, I am done. I want to proceed with the divorce.’
But that wasn't quite all he proceeded with. His lawyer made a case that – based on Kelley's addictions and alleged erratic behavior – she might be a danger to her family. Jim got an order banning Kelley from their home, barring her from seeing the children. At all.
So now Jim was raising the children and Kelley tried to create a new life – attended AA meetings. Met a few men who took an interest in her. The couple was ordered to have no contact whatsoever. But Jim kept calling her, or so says her friend Pam.
PAMELA JO BRADY: I think it was 45 times that I counted that he called in a two day period. And she said, ‘Jim, why are you doing this?’ That's the most she ever said to him.
And then it was late at night, one last phone call to Kelley. But this time, Kelley says Jim told her he was terrified. Of someone. Or something. And he needed her help.
It was raging now: Turbulent marriage, the flood of love-turned-hate. But in the spring of 2008, they were finally apart. Jim had custody of the house and the children, and, to look after them, a housekeeper and a nanny.
It was the morning of June 23rd, 2008. It was the housekeeper who noticed something amiss. She told the story to Detective Brad Putnam…
BRAD PUTNAM: The front door was unlocked. But she didn't seem alarmed, cause there was no indication of—forced entry.
The women sat in the kitchen, had their coffee.
Strange, how quiet... No one greeted them. No busy father, no noisy kids. They went upstairs to investigate and, in the kid's bedroom, noticed something odd.
BRAD PUTNAM: When they walk in the bedroom, they notice that the chest of drawers has moved from its original position. And it's sideways, blocking the closet door. So they move the chest of drawer back, open the closet door. And there they discover the body of James Cannon.
They may have been too shocked to look for long at the bloodied cell phone charger lying near the body. But Detective Putnam certainly saw it.
BRAD PUTNAM: So we’re theorizing, based on this evidence, that probably the AC adapter cord had been used as a ligature, to strangle the victim. Our first concern is we have a homicide here, you know? Who did it? The second concern was the children were missing.
Where were they? Had someone killed Jim Cannon and then kidnapped his three kids? Putnam sent some officers to pay a visit to Kelley. And...
BRAD PUTNAM: They informed us that they had found the children, that they were with Kelley Cannon at her condominium.
Why there? Remember, Jim had custody. The answer, said Kelley, had to do with that phone call the night before, when Jim told her he was frightened by something...or maybe by someone.
BRAD PUTNAM: She says, ‘You know, he told me that he felt like he was being threatened.’
So Kelley said she drove to the big house, found all the lights on and the children asleep in bed... But her husband had vanished.
PAMELA JO BRADY: She knew somethin' was wrong. You know that you've been robbed or whatever, and—and you start thinking, ‘What if the perpetrator is still here? I gotta get out of here.’
She did what any good mother would do, she told detectives. She grabbed those children, left, and then waited for some kind of word. She hoped, she said, that Jim would call.
KEITH MORRISON: Why didn't she call the police when she got to the house...?
DIANE SANDERS: Because they would've arrested her and thrown her back in jail, if they found out that she was over there. They would've arrested her, cause she had that restraining order.
Now, Kelley moved in with her mother. Couldn't stay at the house, of course – she had a restraining order. Besides, it was a sealed off crime zone.
DON AARON-PIO, NASHVILLE POLICE: We believe this death to be suspicious and it is being investigated as a homicide.
Inside, Putnam and his team tried to figure out what happened and when.
The medical examiner estimated time of death to be just before, or very near, Kelley's nighttime visit. And it's true that, in many murder cases, the spouse is the first suspect.
But one look at Kelley told them that this tiny woman – size zero – could hardly have overpowered her stronger husband in a struggle that inflicted bruises and bloody cuts, then held him down with a cord around his neck for the several minutes it would take to kill him.
BRAD PUTNAM: It's unusual to think that a woman – that the means that she used to murder her husband would be strangulation by ligature.
Nor did it seem likely that so delicate a woman could have wrestled a big and very heavy chest of drawers to block the murder scene.
So, intruders, perhaps? Robbers? Didn't look like it.
BRAD PUTNAM: There was a Rolex watch, which is significant, because, you know, a person's not gonna leave the $5,000 watch.
One thing was evident: The murder of Jim Cannon was committed up close and personal. Possible reasons? Remember, he had angered a business colleague, and Kelley did catch him in an affair...And said he called her in fear the very night he was killed. But...
BRAD PUTNAM: I have talked to one of his business partners, and he had no knowledge of him having an affair with anybody or actually having any problems with anybody that would escalate to the point that they would do him bodily harm.
So… back to the murder scene and whatever evidence they could find. The odd smell, for example…
BRAD PUTNAM: There was a very strong odor of bleach in this closet. It's very obvious that someone had cleaned the scene down using bleach.
But that wasn't all they found.
BRAD PUTNAM: We observed the fingertip of the latex glove laying on the carpet.
...Along with, near the body, two intact latex gloves. And then, Detective Putnam saw a box of the same type of gloves in Kelley's little apartment.
BRAD PUTNAM: I said, ‘What do you use these gloves for?’ And she said she used them to apply self tanning. And I thought, ‘You know, I'm gonna go see where she might have purchased these gloves.’ Because I failed to ask her how long she'd had these box of gloves.
Putnam tried tracing their purchase the old-fashioned way, by checking nearby pharmacies. Nobody remembered Kelley. And no sales slip, either.
BRAD PUTNAM: So, I thought, ‘You know, I want to check out the surveillance tape.’
And look at that. This was the evening of Jim Cannon's death, and there was Kelley, caught by the security camera, taking a box of rubber gloves off the shelf of a nearby pharmacy.
BRAD PUTNAM: The camera up front shows her walking past the cash registers with the box of gloves still under her arm, out the front door.
So Kelly was guilty of one thing: Shoplifting a $4.99 box of gloves. Odd for a wealthy woman – but hardly a huge crime. But, as facts and coincidences kept piling up, suspicion increasingly turned toward Kelley.
As one week ran into two, WSMV reporter Cynthia Williams noted that the camps were already forming.
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: People who supported Kelley Cannon supported her with all their heart. And—
KEITH MORRISON: That she wasn't capable of this sort—
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: That she wasn't capable of doing this. Either she was too tiny and too small, or, you know, she wasn't that kind of person. Jim Cannon's friends, his supporters, said that no one could have done it except for Kelley—
And then, on July 10th, less than a month after Jim’s death, news broke that shocked some and was hardly a surprise to others.
WSMV REPORTER: Kelley Cannon is in custody tonight charged with the murder of her husband James...
KEITH MORRISON: Did you confront Kelley and said, you know, ‘Did you kill him?’
DIANE SANDERS: Yeah.
KEITH MORRISON: What'd she say?
DIANE SANDERS: She said no, she did not,
Kelley and Jim Cannon had spent more than 11 years struggling to make their marriage work. But now Jim was dead, his strangled body found in an upstairs closet. And his stunning wife Kelley was charged with his murder.
JOHN HOLLINS: I think Jim told her that weekend that—that he was gonna proceed with the divorce. He was gonna basically take sole custody of these children and raise 'em without her. I think that's when she snapped.
Did she? Police considered the lab results from the tip of that rubber glove which was found near Jim’s body.
BRAD PUTNAM: There was DNA in the glove. And it came back that Kelley Cannon was the contributor of that DNA.
There was also DNA on the outside of the fingertip, which was blood. And the contributor was the victim. So, it's obvious they've had some kind of close contact.
And remember the smell of bleach that detectives noticed? Detective Putnam had a look at the black jeans Kelley was wearing the night of the murder.
BRAD PUTNAM: I noticed there appeared to be a stain on her left pants leg, consistent with someone dropping bleach.
Looked bad for Kelley. Although, she hired a defense attorney, of course – Peter Strianse – who pointed out that the case the state was putting together had a very significant weakness.
PETER STRIANSE: The notion that this 90-pound woman on enough medication to choke a racehorse is able to come in the home under the cover of darkness, subdue her husband, strangle him to such a degree where his voice box is crushed and even the ligaments inside the voice box are affected just—just made absolutely no sense to me.
If anything, said defense attorney Strianse, Kelley had been a victim in that marriage.
PETER STRIANSE: I think she felt powerless and manipulated by her husband.
KEITH MORRISON: Did you contemplate using an abused spouse sort of defense?
PETER STRIANSE: I really did. But she never would acknowledge anything to do with—with any participation in killing her husband.
In fact, out on bail, Kelley agreed to an interview with reporter Cynthia Williams, and put it bluntly: Even though she and her husband had been estranged, in her mind, they were still a couple.
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: Did you do it, Kelley?
KELLEY CANNON: Absolutely not. I love my husband still. And I still can't imagine that he is gone. We had a wonderful life together. We weren't very social. We kept to ourselves. Every weekend we spent with our children. They were our life. They are our life.
The case against Kelley, who was living with her mother but wearing a monitoring bracelet, crawled glacially toward a trial. Her children now lived with her husband's sister.
KELLEY CANNON: I'm missing all those important moments with her, my child, my baby that young. You know, they change so quickly.
But then, in February of 2009, charged with murder but free on bail, Kelley did something odd, something that got her into even more trouble...
WSMV-TV: Police say the woman accused of killing her estranged husband Jim Cannon last year cut the monitoring device from her leg and was nowhere to be found for at least two hours.
What did she do during those two hours? She never explained that. But now she was back in jail, and stayed there for almost two years, waiting for trial. Until May 2010, when DA Katy Miller opened for the prosecution.
KATY MILLER: Every piece of evidence will point to Kelley Cannon as the person who strangled her husband and absolutely nobody else.
PETER STRIANSE: What they're going to be selling this week, ladies and gentlemen, is that this woman settles on a bare-knuckle violent confrontation with her husband—someone who is much larger, much stronger, physically superior to Kelley Cannon.
There was the housekeeper who found the body…
VICKIE SHAMS: The color of the skin, it was not normal. It was a dark and—
KATY MILLER: Okay.
VICKIE SHAMS: [crying] I'm sorry.
Then there was the friend who met Kelley at a local restaurant a few hours before Jim was murdered.
AMY HUSTON: She kind of alternated between ‘I don't know what I'm going to do, I don't know what to do,’ and, you know, ‘How dare he divorce me. He can't do this to me. You know, I'm the primary caregiver.’
KATY MILLER: Did you offer her some advice?
AMY HUSTON: Yeah. My suggestion was that she should get a job.
They called a man Kelley had met through a rehab program and had been seeing after the marriage collapsed. After the murder, he testified, he was understandably curious.
KATY MILLER: At some point did you point blankly asked Miss Cannon about what happened?
RICK GREENE: Yeah. I said, ‘Tell me that you didn't know his body was in the closet when you left that house.’
KATY MILLER: And what did she say?
RICK GREENE: She said, ‘Rick, I can't tell you anything because I don't want you to have to lie.’
But he also admitted a few too many drinks might have affected his memory of that conversation.
PETER STRIANSE: And that caused some concern in your mind whether you were really able to accurately recall what Mrs. Cannon told you, is that right? And you expressed those concerns to the officer, is that right?
RICK GREENE: I did.
Lead detective Brad Putnam testified that he followed any lead he could...even talked to the woman with whom Jim had the affair…
BRAD PUTNAM: I just wanted to be able to see if she had anything to do with this or not.
KATY MILLER: Okay, so her DNA was also submitted to the lab?
BRAD PUTNAM: It was.
But Kelley's DNA, Jim’s too, was found on that latex glove tip...and also, it turned out, on Kelley's black jeans.
BRAD PUTNAM: There was a mixture of the victim's blood and Kelley Cannon's blood on the left pants leg.
Still the defense said, that wasn't surprising.
PETER STRIANSE: The DNA puts her there, but remember it's her house. Her DNA's gonna be all over the house.
But could she have overpowered her much bigger husband? Maybe, said the state, and a medical expert explained why…
KATY MILLER: What were the results of that test?
THOMAS DEERING: The only thing that was positive was ethanol and that level was hundred and forty-nine.
In other words, Jim had been legally drunk. Too much booze, said the expert, combined with surprise…
DR.THOMAS DEERING: You cut off internal jugular veins for something less than ten seconds – maybe six to ten seconds – the person will pass out. If you hold that for a longer period of time, and that might take a couple of minutes, that person's oxygen will be cut off to the brain, and shortly later their heart and their lungs will stop.
Well, maybe. The defense would have an answer for that. But what could they say about this?
A local bartender who stunned the courtroom with his story about Kelley:
AARON BAGLEY: A lady came in and sat in the bar, telling me about her and her husband going through divorce, she found out she's been cheated on.
KATY MILLER: And, what else did she say?
AARON BAGLEY: If he tried to take the babies from her that she would kill him.
There it was – an open threat.
But above all, said the DA, was this:
KATY MILLER: The m—most compelling evidence would be the fact that Kelley Cannon went to the house that night, and took the children and acted in a most bizarre manner.
If only the children could tell what happened. Well... Maybe one of them could.
COURT CLERK: Can you tell us your name and spell it for us?
ISAAC CANNON: Isaac Cannon...I-S-A-A-C-....
Once she was glamorous, beautiful, gregarious. Now Kelley Cannon sat mute in the courtroom, on trial for killing her husband. And the next witness against her would be a shocker.
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: She was in between tears and just sitting there with no expression on her face.
The witness? Her 11-year-old son, Isaac. This was the first time she'd seen him for more than a year. Because he's so young, cameras were not allowed to film him
Isaac and his two siblings had been asleep in another part of the house when their father was killed in the boy's bedroom. And now, he sat in the witness box, facing his mother, just a few feet away.
KATY MILLER: Do you remember what your mom said when she woke you up there in the middle of the night?
ISAAC CANNON: She said, ‘Let's go.’
KATY MILLER: Did your mom say anything to you about ‘Where's Dad?’ or anything about your dad?
ISAAC CANNON: No.
KATY MILLER: Did your mom let you get anything out of your bedroom – clothes, toys, pillow, anything?
ISAAC CANNON: No.
KATY MILLER: How is your mom acting after she woke you up?
ISAAC CANNON: She seemed nervous and like jumpy.
KATY MILLER: How did that make you feel?
ISAAC CANNON: Made me feel scared and jumpy, like ‘Why was she here?’ Maybe she was trying to take us away somewhere like really far, and so our dad can never find us.
A child fearful of his mother's actions? It was potentially devastating.
But now, finally, it was time for the defense to make its case. A case he might not have had to make at all, said attorney Peter Strianse, if the state had done its job and considered other options.
PETER STRIANSE: In the month preceding the death, there were three very seamy suspect individuals that were all vying for her attention.
One of these individuals may have heard her complain about her plight — what she was going through with her husband. And one of them may have acted on their own, perhaps to win her, or win favor.
Had police paid close enough attention? The defense argued that potential suspects had only been investigated in the most cursory way. One of them particularly:
JAMES DEAN BAKER: My name is James Dean Baker.
An ex-fireman Kelley had met in rehab.
PETER STRIANSE: In your investigation of Mr. Baker...
Detective Brad Putnam on the stand.
PETER STRIANSE: He had been arrested for stalking.
BRAD PUTNAM: I don't know.
PETER STRIANSE: Were you aware of that? He had been arrested for attempted burglary. Were you aware of that?
BRAD PUTNAM: No, sir.
Did he have a motive? Maybe, claimed the defense.
PETER STRIANSE: Were you aware that James Malcolm Cannon represented Mrs. Baker in their divorce?
BRAD PUTNAM: No, sir.
Back when he was a practicing lawyer, Jim Cannon represented Baker's wife in a particularly nasty divorce. Mind you, there was no evidence actually connecting Baker to the murder, but it did raise the question: Had anyone harbored a grudge against Cannon, somebody other than his petite wife? And did anyone really think that she was capable of overcoming her husband's resistance, much less inflicting those fatal wounds?
DR. JONATHAN ARDEN: Having seen examples in over more than twenty-five years, this is an indicator of greater amount of force even within the spectrum of how much force it takes to strangle a person.
PETER STRIANSE: Do you have an opinion as to how much strength it would take to cause the kind of injuries that you saw?
DR.JONATHAN ARDEN: My opinion is that it would take a strong person. You would have to able to pull this ligature very tightly and hold it with a large amount of force.
The state had contended that, slightly drunk and asleep, Jim had been surprised by his attacker and lost consciousness immediately. But the defense witness maintained he put up a fight.
DR. JONATHAN ARDEN: So, given the multiple marks, yes, it does indicate to me that there was movement of the ligature during the events.
PETER STRIANSE: Is that consistent with the victim moving against the wrap—
DR.JONATHAN ARDEN: Yes, sir.
PETER STRIANSE: —during the altercation.
DR. JONATHAN ARDEN: Yes, it is.
PETER STRIANSE: Given the injuries that he sustained, there was a significant struggle. And I think it's very telling that she had no marks on her whatsoever. So, they really can't have it both ways.
By this point, of course, the trial of Kelley Cannon was big news in Nashville, and so was the rumor that she would testify on her own behalf.
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: There were those of us—all of us who maybe wanted to hear what Kelley Cannon had to say about all this, on a witness stand.
KEITH MORRISON: That would have been standing room only, I would think.
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: Yes, yes...
But in the end, she did not. Instead she sat, mute and expressionless, as she listened to closing arguments.
ASSISTANT DA: Thank goodness her plan only worked so far, worked well enough to take her children away from their father once and for all, but not well enough to keep from being caught. And, I will submit to you, not well enough to keep from being convicted of first-degree premeditated murder.
PETER STRIANSE: And the point that I'm trying to make is, Mrs. Cannon was simply not capable physically or emotionally to inflict the kind of devastating damage that you heard about over the last couple of days.
It was a Thursday, the 11th of May, 10:45AM, when the jury retired to consider its verdict.
Guilty? Or innocent? And what might Kelley Cannon say? You are about to find out.
Kelley and Jim Cannon shared a life together. Now she was on trial for killing him. Yet she had trusted the system, tried to cooperate – or so said her defense attorney.
PETER STRIANSE: She spoke extensively to the police.
KEITH MORRISON: Loves to talk.
PETER STRIANSE: Unreservedly. Loves to talk.
Except...not in court, to the jury.
But Kelley did talk. Before her trial, in a phone interview with journalist Elizabeth Ulrich for Nashville Scene magazine. Here, for the first time, excerpts.
KELLEY CANNON: I loved him with all our life. I want my children to have a father. I don't want my children to be fatherless.
Even so, she claimed, it was often Jim that precipitated the chaos in their home. And as for that infamous suburban car chase just a month before the murder, the one that got Kelley arrested....
ELIZABETH ULRICH: That was the time in which he said that you pushed him out of the way, and bumped his car?
KELLEY CANNON: There wasn't a high-speed chase. I—I sped up for maybe five houses. I mean, I had a baby in the car.
She was protecting her children, she claimed, from Jim’s wrath...and then she misunderstood the police who answered the 911 call.
KELLEY CANNON: And I thought I was doing the right thing, cause they pulled over. Like, ‘Get on out of here.’ You know? ‘Go. Get on out of here,’ is what—what I took it as.
And why was Jim terrified when he called her the night he was murdered? She still doesn't know, she said.
KELLEY CANNON: I said, ‘Well, what—what are you scared of?’ And he said, ‘I'm just telling you things have just gone out of control in ways that I can't even talk about. And I feel threatened. And I'm afraid.’
And when she went to the house that night and scooped up her children, she said it was to protect her family, not destroy it.
KELLEY CANNON: The door was open when I got there. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I've gotta get the kids out of here.’ And that's what I did. I was afraid, but I'm also a mother that has a baby and two children in the house.
She was trying to protect her family, said Kelley, that's what put her in the wrong place at the wrong time. And now, here she was, waiting for a jury.
And? They were back with a verdict in just 90 minutes
JUDGE: I'm going to ask you, first of all, what your verdict is with regard to the charge of murder in first degree?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A guilty.
JUDGE: Guilty of first-degree premeditated murder.
She watched. She seemed to go numb. Others were not so stoic.
DIANE SANDERS: It was just horrific. Your only daughter—most beautiful life, so much to live for – it's just thrown away.
WSMV NEWS FOOTAGE:
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: Victory?
KATY MILLER: Well, when a death is involved and three children have lost their father, I'm not sure I would call it a victory.
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: Katy Miller summed things up. Nobody won here. Nobody won.
And the defense attorney? Claimed the result was almost foregone from the beginning.
PETER STRIANSE: The police, they had this thing wrapped up by the 10:00 news on that Monday that his body was found. And they were never motivated to look beyond her.
The man who killed her husband, said Kelley, is still out there somewhere. She said she is sure of it. And she'll have lots of time to consider where he might be.
Kelley was sentenced to life in prison, which makes her own mother wonder...was Kelley'S insistence on innocence the right choice?
DIANE SANDERS: This sounds cynical. I said, ‘Why didn't you just cop a plea, say you did it and you get 25 years at the most?’ Well, she was adamant—she was adamant the whole time that she was not gonna plead guilty.
They rode the placid currents of a golden marriage... And then the storms, and with them the apparently inevitable flood. Until, one night in June, Jim and Kelley Cannon had their final separation, a separation that was too late to save either of them.
CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: You don't walk away from dysfunctional, toxic relationships. You don't hop away from toxic relationships. You don't skip away from them. You run.
And, clearly, somebody didn't run away from this relationship in enough time.
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