Murder Mystery: Beauty and a Beastly Death, Part 1
Arkansas Tech student Nona Dirksmeyer was the reigning Miss Petit Jean Valley when she was slain in her off-campus apartment Dec. 15, 2005.
Her boyfriend, Kevin Jones, his mother and a friend found the beauty queen’s bloody body at 6:30 p.m. and called 911. Clad only in a pair of socks, Dirksmeyer had suffered 17 cuts in the neck and throat, bruises on her face, and partial strangulation that broke her hyoid bone; but it was a fractured skull that killed her. The murder weapon was a floor lamp with a heavy metal base that lay near her body.
When members of the Russellville Police Department (RPD) arrived, Jones had blood on his face, hands, and clothing; the result of trying to resuscitate her, he explained. But detectives suspected him of deliberately contaminating the crime scene. Two pieces of evidence were an empty condom wrapper on the kitchen counter and a bloody palm print on the bulb of the floor lamp.
Later, during an interview at police headquarters, Jones said he hadn’t seen the condom wrapper. He and Dirksmeyer never used condoms, and he didn’t know she had been intimate with anyone except him, though he admitted cheating on her. Detectives theorized Jones visited Dirksmeyer, saw the condom wrapper, flew into a rage and killed her. The questioning was videotaped, and when he was alone in the interrogation room, Jones repeatedly hit the back of his chair. He voluntarily took a polygraph test, but according to former Police Chief James Bacon, Jones not only failed the test but failed it “miserably.”
Bursts of temper aren’t grounds for an indictment and polygraph results aren’t admissible in court, but the bloody palm print on the lamp bulb turned out to be Jones’. Investigators built a case against him primarily on that piece of evidence and charged him with first-degree murder.
In the July 2007 trial, determining the time that Jones left the palm print on the lamp bulb became crucial. Bacon said part of the print had a “tacky” appearance. The defense construed “tacky” to mean wet and claimed Jones left his print there when he discovered the body, not several hours earlier as the prosecution maintained. Dr. Charles Kokes, chief medical examiner, estimated Dirksmeyer died between 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Her friend, Sara Bailey, testified she talked to Dirksmeyer by phone at 10:14 a.m. Another witness, Tony Sigle, an EMT at the murder scene, said it was 60 degrees in the apartment. Prosecutor David Gibbons suggested Jones turned off the heat to slow decomposition.
The defense team sought to establish Jones’ alibi. At about 9:50 a.m., a contractor arrived at the Jones residence in Dover to inspect a bathroom that needed repairs. He routinely took time-stamped pictures of job sites to help him prepare estimates. He confirmed Jones was there and provided a photo taken at 10:06 a.m.
Jones said he did some chores after the contractor left, then went to his parents’ gas station, located between Dover and Russellville, where he saw his grandmother at 11:30 a.m. Blake Walters, an employee at the station, contradicted that timeline; he said he didn’t see Jones at the station until 2:45 p.m.
At 12:05 p.m., Jones phoned a friend, Jeremy Huggins, who worked at the Bayou Bridge Café in Dover. Huggins stated that Jones came to the café and stayed until 1 p.m.
The RPD collected Dirksmeyer’s cell phone and SIM card, but gave it to her stepfather Duane Dipert. By the time it was retrieved, Dipert had deleted Dirksmeyer’s numbers and entered his own. The Arkansas State Crime Lab examined the SIM card and discovered several text messages, including one that said, “I wonder why you’re leading me on.” Dirksmeyer’s replies, if any, were gone.
The lab couldn’t recover any usable fingerprints from the condom wrapper and didn’t test it for DNA. The defense team, however, hired an independent expert who found male DNA on the wrapper, and it excluded Jones as the contributor.
In the end, jurors didn’t think the prosecution proved its case and acquitted Jones. He enrolled in law school and has filed a civil suit alleging violation of his constitutional rights.
NEXT MONTH: Another suspect.