COLUMBIANA, Ala. (WIAT) — On Friday, the defense team for Jeff West began its case for his innocence in the murder of his wife, Kathleen Dawn West, two years ago.
The case stretched into its fourth day Friday in Shelby County. The prosecution rested its case early that morning, leaving time for the defense to call witnesses and experts for their side.
Kathleen West, better known as “Kat,” was found dead outside her home in Calera in January 2018. An autopsy found that she had suffered blunt force trauma to the head. During an investigation, law enforcement charged her husband Jeff West with her death.
In the course of the trial, prosecutors maintained that the Wests endured marital problems over the years and that Jeff West killed his wife by hitting her on the head with a liquor bottle. However, his attorneys have argued that Kat West drunkenly fell and fatally hit her head the night of her death.
Day 4 of the trial
Forensic pathologist Dr. Stephen Boudreau was called to the stand Friday to discuss the severity of Kat West’s injuries and what caused her death. Boudreau, who conducted her autopsy, said that due to the severity of her head injury, it was unlikely that a fall caused it, as the defense had maintained.
Boudreau said her death was caused by blunt force trauma to the left side of her head. This means the object that injured her did not have a sharp surface. The skull fracture was caused by “a considerable amount” of force, Boudreau said, and would have probably rendered her unconscious. Boudreau said the bottle of absinthe could have caused Kat West’s head injuries, but he was not able to determine if that was the case.
The medical examiner said head wounds like Kat West’s cause a lot of bleeding. Because of this fact, he said if she had moved locations after the wound was inflicted, there most likely would have been a blood trail. There was no trail of blood at the crime scene, only a pool of blood right beside where her body was found.
In cross examination, the defense honed in on Kat West’s blood alcohol content (BAC). Her BAC was .23, nearly three times the legal limit. Her eye fluid content was also tested, which can indicate whether the victim was more or less drunk than at the time of death. West’s eye fluid content was .284, meaning she was more intoxicated prior to her death, than she was at her death.
Nancy Martin, Kat West’s mother, was called to testify. During her testimony, Martin said that when her daughter was drunk, she would often go outside, skimpily dressed, and dance, run around, or jump on the trampoline.
“She could not just drink one drink… she’d say, I need another one,” said Martin.
The last time Martin saw her daughter alive was the Wednesday prior to her death. Martin took her to a doctor’s appointment, a check-up for her breast augmentation. It was not the first breast augmentation West had received. After the appointment, the two went to lunch together.
Martin testified that she did not witness any volatility or violence between Kat and Jeff West. The morning her daughter’s body was found, Martin and her husband John were interviewed at the Calera police station. Martin said she and her husband waited for hours for her son-in-law to be released. She believes he is innocent.
Martin said she and Jeff West went to the funeral home together on two occasions to make arrangements for her daughter. Martin said he cried, and when they viewed her body, he broke down in tears. During this portion of Martin’s testimony Jeff West was seen wiping tears from his face in the courtroom.
Martin said she knew how hard this was on her, but she couldn’t imagine how hard it must be on her son-in-law.
The defense initially planned to have Jeff West take the stand, but he later decided not to testify.
Ben Fuller, an assistant district attorney gave the state’s closing argument. “Kathleen West had life left to live, but that life was cut short,” Fuller began.
The state argued that Jeff West murdered his wife with intent and reminded the jury of the medical examiner’s testimony given earlier in the day. Fuller said that testimony showed the lack of blood anywhere other than the area in which Kat’s body was discovered, stating she was probably rendered unconscious when her husband hit her with a liquor bottle.
Fuller referenced the forensic examiner’s testimony again, stating Kat West’s petite height made it unlikely for her head wounds to have been caused by a fall. The examiner also said the length of her wound, approximately 2 inches, is consistent with the liquor bottle found at the scene.
The prosecution then shifted to the police interview Jeff West gave the morning his wife’s body was found. They believe he lied to police when he told them he woke up because of all of the police cars on his street. A neighbor who found Kat West’s body testified earlier in the week she saw Jeff pacing back and forth in his home while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher.
None of the police officers that testified in this trial could recall whether their sirens were on when they arrived to the scene. The prosecution argued it was unlikely Jeff West would have been awakened by the police without siren noise.
Data obtained from Jeff West’s cell phone indicate he was moving about after police arrived to the scene. He placed a call to his wife’s phone eight minutes after his phone began tracking his movements. The prosecution believes he lied to police, because he already knew she was dead in the street.
Jeff West’s cell phone data from the night indicate movement until 11:10 p.m. However, he told officers he went to bed around 10:30 p.m., contradicting his phone data.
In West’s police interview, he appears calm. He cooperated with investigators. Fuller said this is not how a person would act upon just learning their spouse was dead.
Fingerprints found on the bottle indicated that the bottle was held by the neck, upside down. The state argued those prints appeared in that manner because Jeff West used it to strike his wife.
In the text messages presented between the couple, the prosecution argued these messages show the volatile nature of the their relationship and that they were not in a good place, as Jeff West had told police officers.
The state then turned it over to the defense for their closing arguments. John Robbins, Jeff West’s attorney, began by addressing statements made by the prosecution. He said the messages Fuller referenced didn’t show the full picture of the couple’s relationship.
“It wasn’t a bad marriage,” said Robbins before explaining what “12345,” a common message shared between the couple meant. He said it meant, “I love you.”
Kat and Jeff both had matching tattoos of “4Life” on their wrists. Robbins argued this showed the couple’s relationship was not volatile and that Jeff loved his wife.
The defense said Jeff West was the only witness Mirandized and that this was because from the beginning, police considered him the only suspect in this case. Robbins referred to the police interview, in which West cooperated with police, and gave them permission to search his home, as well as take his and his wife’s phones in for evidence.
In reference to data collected from Jeff’s phone, Robbins asked the jury how many of them know the exact time they wake up and go to sleep. He said Jeff was in shock, learning his wife had passed, and shouldn’t be expected to recall exactly when he went to bed the night before.
The defense argued that Jeff was searching his home for his wife when a witness placed the original 911 call. He said what the witness described as seeing West pacing, was him going through his home, looking for his wife.
Data obtained from ADT security showed Jeff West’s front door remaining open from 1:51 to 5:12 a.m., the day Kat’s body was discovered. Robbins argued he closed the doors that morning because he had dogs, and just realized the door was open.
Robbins said Jeff West kept a calm composure during the police interview due to his military training, in which soldiers are taught to keep their emotions in check.
The defense circled back to the medical examiner’s testimony, saying, “Do we know what happened to Kat? No, we don’t.” Robbins said there is not a way to know there was not blood in other areas surrounding Jeff’s home.
“Kat was so drunk, she took off her panties and fell,” said Robbins after stating her blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit.
The defense said no evidence was provided showing human tissue or hair on the bottle of absinthe if it were used as a murder weapon. He also said no glass was found in Kat’s head wound.
While the prosecution argued the finger prints indicate how a bottle would be held if you intended to hit someone with it, the defense countered that it was an awkward way to hold the bottle, that Jeff didn’t use the bottle to club his wife.
“Her past behavior is consistent with what she did that night,” said Robbins. “She was really drunk.”
In the prosecution’s final rebuttal, Danial McBrayer, an assistant district attorney, addressed the jury. He reminded the jurors of what Robbins said in his opening statement, that no one would care about this murder if it weren’t for the sexual nature of the case.
“We care! The Shelby County DA’s office care,” exclaimed McBrayer. McBrayer then began to tell a story of what he believes happened that night:
McBrayer said he believes the couple was arguing when they got home from their date night. He said Jeff West didn’t like how much time Kat spent on her phone, and when the door opened for a few seconds at 10:54 p.m., he took her phone and chucked it out the window.
“There’s a word for this,” said McBrayer. “The relationship was volatile.”
The prosecution said when the door opened at 1:51 a.m. it was when Kat ran outside to find her phone. “He was pissed off, grabs that bottle off the table. And with one swing, ends her life,” said McBrayer. The district attorney pointed to Jeff’s military training and said he knows better than to move a body from the scene, that Jeff intentionally left his door open, and waited for someone to come find his wife’s body.
McBrayer corrected Robbins’ statement on the likelihood of the wound being caused by a fall, citing the examiner statement that it was not very likely that this was how the wound was inflicted.
“He did not say, ‘I didn’t kill my wife.’ He said, ‘I would not hurt my wife,'” said McBrayer.
“William Jeffrey West killed Kathleen West. He did it with a Lucid absinthe bottle, held like this, just strike her over the head,” said McBrayer.
The jury will decided between three options in their deliberations: intentional murder, reckless manslaughter, and not guilty.
This story will be updated as the trial continues.