GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — A woman took the stand in the trial of a man accused of raping and strangling a woman in her car, contradicting his story of what happened that night in 2009.
The state’s first witness Monday morning was Leslie Garcia. Her ex-fiance was best friends with Crispin Harmel, who is being re-tried for the murder of Jessika Kalaher.
The day before Kalaher died, Garcia said Harmel was supposed to come to their apartment that night to drop off money that he owed her then-fiance, but he never showed up. In a 2009 police interview, Harmel told detectives he went inside their apartment that night before he met up with Kalaher.
Garcia said they later recognized Harmel’s picture on the news and the anchors asked anyone who knew who he was to call police.
“Crispin was like family and it was hard to make a phone call like that, but at the same time a young girl lost her life,” Garcia said with tears in her eyes.
The defense questioned Garcia’s testimony about being certain Harmel didn’t show up that night. Attorney Ryan Deck pointed to Garcia’s testimony from April 2014 when she said she wasn’t sure if Harmel ever showed up. However, Garcia clarified the context of that testimony, saying she couldn’t be sure if he ever showed up, but she did not see him and he didn’t come into their apartment.
Garcia also testified Harmel did not leave his shirt he was wearing the night of Kalaher’s death at their apartment. In a police interview, Harmel told detectives he left it there.
The state also called two Cedar Park police officers who worked on Kalaher’s case. Lt. Hazen Lango testified he went to the Bank of America ATM where Harmel said Kalaher drove the two of them to get cash. Lango said he later learned after calling Bank of America that the camera at the ATM did not work. The defense asked Lango if it was obvious just by looking at it that the camera didn’t work. Lango said it was not obvious.
Cpl. Melissa Fautheree with Cedar Park PD then took the stand. She took pictures inside Kalaher’s Kia, where her body was found. She pointed out what appeared to be footprints on the ceiling of the car and the back driver’s seat. She also testified they did not find Harmel’s fingerprints in or on Kalaher’s car, even though he said he had been in it.
“There are some people who don’t leave fingerprints,” Fautheree said.
Fautheree also took DNA samples from the car. The defense pointed out she did not swab two water bottles or a black purse for DNA that were found in Kalaher’s car. Fautheree said those water bottles were sent to the state lab.
The state’s fourth witness was Sergey, a friend and co-worker of Kalaher’s. He was with her and other friends the night before she was killed. Sergey said Kalaher never mentioned anything about meeting up with Crispin Harmel later that night.
Chris Laakey, who dated Kalaher about 15 years ago, took the stand. He says he also knew Harmel from playing in the same softball league and he never introduced the two. Laakey said he was angry after he heard Kalaher had been killed so he confronted Harmel and asked him what happened.
“He told me that they were catching up, that he knew her from before, he met her in the parking lot,” explains Laakey.
Laakey said Harmel told him they talked for about a half hour in the parking lot and then he went inside Walmart. Surveillance video from Walmart shows Harmel going into Walmart first to use the bathroom and then following Kalaher out of Walmart.
One of Kalaher’s best friends, Rhonda Garza, testified Kalaher wanted an emotionally stable man. She said Kalaher was not interested in going on a sex website. She also said that she set up several of Kalaher’s social media accounts, so she would’ve know if Kalaher was on a sex website. She also said she had some of Kalaher’s passwords and when she found out Harmel may have been involved in her death, she started looking for any connection between Harmel and Kalaher and she couldn’t find one. Garza testified finances were tight for Kalaher and that friends were giving her money to help her out. Harmel told police Kalaher lent him her debit card to get gas and food.
The state called Elizabeth Blalock, Harmel’s former girlfriend who he met around the time Kalaher died. Blalock testified Harmel told her in 2009 that his apartment burned down and he lost his phone in the fire. Blalock later learned from police that detectives took Harmel’s phone to search. Blalock says Harmel also told her his truck broke down, but police had taken his truck to search. When Blalock asked Harmel about Kalaher, she says he told her that she was a girl he knew from high school and that he ran into her at Walmart. According to Blalock, Harmel said he had been cleared in her murder investigation. Harmel was arrested on Dec. 4, 2009.
That state’s final witness was Detective Feliciano Acevedo, who does computer and cell phone forensics for the Round Rock Police Department. Acevedo testified he did not find anything on Kalaher’s phone connecting her and Harmel. Harmel claimed they messaged each other on an adult website. Acevedo also said when he looked at Harmel’s cell phone in 2009, did not find anything connecting him to Kalaher.
Acevedo looked at Harmel’s cell phone again in 2018 with updated software and a new technique that would helped him get all the data from Harmel’s phone without destroying it. That time he found Harmel searched Jessika Kalaher’s name on September 8, 2009, one day after she had been killed. Acevedo said he looked at a news article and photo of Kalaher.
The defense argued that Harmel’s phone has been sitting in storage for eight years in unknown conditions. Attorney Ryan Deck asked Acevedo if data could be lost in unknown conditions – Acevedo said data could be corrupted but not lost.
The state rested on Monday afternoon. The defense then made a motion for a directed verdict, basically asking Judge Rick Kennon to take the case from the jury and find Harmel not guilty. The defense said there’s no proof Harmel intentionally killed Kalaher. The state requested Judge Kennon deny the motion, saying Dr. Bill Smock testified last week that by strangling Kalaher twice, manually and then with a ligature, the defendant intended to kill Kalaher. Judge Kennon denied the motion.
The defense will have the opportunity to make its case Tuesday morning.