GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — On Tuesday, opening statements began in the capital murder trial against Crispin Harmel,34.
Harmel is accused of killing Jessika Kalaher, 27, in September 2009.
Prosecutors said Kalaher was found dead in her car across the street from Walmart in Cedar Park, where she had stopped to buy dog food.
Jurors saw surveillance video showing both the victim and the suspect at the Walmart. The video showed Kalaher going into the Walmart and not far behind is Crispin, who goes towards the restroom. Kalaher buys the dog food, leaves and Crispin is seen going toward Kalaher’s direction and not where he had parked his truck.
Bank records show Kalaher had an ATM withdraw and a gas purchase. Surveillance photos indicate it was Crispin with his truck but the charge is on the victim’s debit card.
“She was strangled,” testified Detective Ricky Pando with the Cedar Park Police Department. “Due to the extreme bruising throughout the body, back of the hands, legs and arms, she was in a fight for her life.”
The defense attorney, Ryan Deck, argues that there is no evidence in the car of a struggle with Harmel in the car and also no physical evidence of his fingerprints or DNA.
During the initial investigation, police said Harmel had admitted that he had thrown away a debit card belonging to Kalaher and a receipt from where the debit card was used. He also stated the clothing he was seen wearing at the Walmart had been left at a friend’s house, something police say the friend said was a lie.
Harmel also told police at the time that once he learned they were looking for him, he altered the appearance of his truck and spray painted the tire rims to make it less likely to identify.
“He panicked,” said Deck during opening statements. “He had actually tried to return the debit card because they worked out a situation where he was supposed to return a debit card the next day at the HEB. He went there and of course she wasn’t there. So, now he finds out a few days later that police are looking for him and guess what? He has the dead girl’s debit card.”
Although authorities originally arrested Harmel for destroying Kalaher’s credit card, they had been unable to link him directly with her death.
In 2010, he plead guilty to credit card abuse and tampering with evidence and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
But when District Attorney Jana Duty took over the job in 2013, she felt the evidence they had enough to pursue a capital murder charge.
“I believe that Mr. Harmel assumed that by taking the maximum punishment on these two cases, the murder case would go away; he was wrong,” Duty said in May 2013, when a grand jury indicted Harmel on the capital murder charge.
If convicted, Harmel will spend life in prison without parole. The defense decided not to pursue the death penalty.