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Kristen Simpson strong, confident at murder trial

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of October 2, 2014)
Photo: Kristen Simpson
at trial.

After three years of fury and sorrow, grieving the loss of her husband while trying to keep going for their two children, Kristen Simpson’s moment finally came.

It seemed only right that she was the first witness called in the murder trial of Henry Lee Jones, Jr., charged with shooting her husband Brian in November 2011 during an abortive burglary of the family home in Central Beach.

Often during the past three years, she has been quick to say that the trial of the man charged with shooting her husband was what she waited for with great passion as a point of justice and closure.

But it is also what she dreaded more than anything else in the world because, she said, she knew, once again, she would have to live the horror of Brian’s death detail by excruciating detail.

And so, on Monday morning, when she took the stand – a slim, curly-headed woman in black, trembling visibly – she was, at first, unable to speak, overcome by the gravity of the moment.

After drinking some water, her voice came out faint and cracking.  But she kept going, robotic and halting, as prosecutor Tom Bakkedahl questioned her.

She was married 18 years, 11 months and 11 days before her husband was killed, she said, her voice growing stronger. She went to her daughter’s choral concert on the night he died and exchanged texts with him, their final communication.

“How did they sound?” he texted innocently, right before entering their home.

“Beautiful,” she wrote back.

From the witness stand, she looked at the photos of their Fiddlewood home, sprawled in color across a large screen, exposing to all of the world the rooms where the family ate, cooked and slept.  She acknowledged their ransacked bedroom, and Brian’s glass on the dining room table with ice still in it when police arrived and found him dead.

She didn’t flinch at photos of their bathroom, their toothbrushes by the sink with the window  above the toilet open, after one of two burglars frantically tried to get through it, as the other – allegedly Jones – shot and killed her husband.

By the time defense attorney Dorothy Naumann cross-examined her, Kristen Simpson’s voice was strong and confident.

No, she said, she did not know to whom the red bandana on the bed belonged. She did not recall seeing it before the murder.

Then she left the witness stand, crossing the courtroom and taking a seat between her sister and her two children, Samantha, now 18, and Scott, 16, hugging the three of them.

The prosecution’s star witness, alleged accomplice Darius Robinson, then 16, was to come later – expected to strengthen the state’s case with a narrative of that identified Jones as the shooter.

But nothing seemed likely to rivet the jury like the testimony of Kristen Simpson, and certainly nothing competed with her on opening day as the prosecution began building a slow, methodical case with a body of circumstantial evidence.

A security camera at the BP gas station on Oslo Rd. caught Jones, then 23, and Robinson together, dressed in dark clothing, in the station store about an hour and 15 minutes before the murder.

“They followed one another in and talked,” Prosecutor Bakkedahl said.  “Then, they followed one another out.”

One by one, witnesses gave evidence that placed men who met the description of Jones and Robinson nearer and nearer to the Simpson’s Central Beach home as the time of the murder got closer.

One witness, who was fishing under the Barber Bridge, saw a motor scooter parked there that resembled the description of Jones’ scooter.

Another witness saw two young men, who met the description of Jones and Robinson, walking through a park near the bridge.

Yet another witness saw two men walking on Date Palm a few blocks from the Simpson house. As in the other descriptions, they were young, slim black men – one with dreads tucked in a tight ponytail like Darius, the other with short hair like Jones.

A neighbor of the Simpsons’ said that his two bikes were stolen off the front porch minutes before Brian was killed.

A police officer said he found the bikes after the murder, dumped near where the motor scooter was seen under the bridge.

The Simpson’s next door neighbor said he saw a tall, slender person – whom he thought was a young woman because of the dreads “pulled back in a bun” – circling on a bike in front of the Simpson home, right before the time of the murder.

The neighbor told his son: “Lock the doors when I leave. I think that’s a lookout for a robbery.”

Then, the neighbor who lives directly behind the Simpsons, heard a popping sound like a gun and a crashing sound coming from the Simpson home at about 6:43 PM on the night of Nov. 17th, 2011.

She called 911 and reported it, and police arrived at the Simpson house in about 10 minutes.

At this point, as police described what they found, Kristen Simpson doubled over in her seat, her head falling to her knees.

Subsequent photos showed the backyard gate to the Simpson home open, the kitchen window open with the screen askew, the back sliding doors open and the bathroom window open.

Then, came one of the photos that Kristen Simpson had so dreaded: Her husband crumpled on his side at the foot of their bed, the American flag he had grabbed wrapped around his feet.

“He had no pulse,” said a police officer on the stand, as Kristen’s body heaved in sorrow.

As the trial continued, the circumstantial evidence built:  A jewelry box stolen from the Simpson home was found in the possession of Henry Lee Jones as well as a gun bag that linked to the murder, according to witnesses. Shoe prints in the yard matched the prints of Jones’ Nike tennis shoes. He sold jewelry that belonged to the Simpsons.

Possession of stolen goods is not proof of murder, countered defense attorneys. A lot of people have those Nikes.

And there was more to come.  Defense attorneys produced a jailed witness who said that Robinson told him: “Henry wasn’t there when the guy was shot.”

Further, defense attorneys pointed to examples of Robinson lying when police first arrested him.

What remains for jurors to decide is: How credible is Robinson, and do any of the doubts the defense has attempted to raise add up to reasonable doubt, and warrant a not-guilty verdict?

As the trial continues, those questions are expected to be answered by the end of the week.