FAIRFIELD — Gruesome details in the case of a Fairfield man who may have used a tanning bed to kill his girlfriend before cooking her body inside it were resurrected Monday in the murder trial of Lonnie J. Kerley.
Kerley is accused of killing Danna Dever, who lived with Kerley and their 9-year-old daughter at their home in Cordelia. He reported Dever missing to Fairfield police in August 1996, saying she had walked out the door six weeks earlier and had not returned.
As Kerley’s jury trial started its fifth week, Prosecutor Krishna Abrams, outside the presence of the jury, told Judge Allan P. Carter about what she labeled as a “jailhouse confession” she claims was made by Kerley to a fellow jail inmate before his trial got under way.
Kerley was arrested in 2010 after investigators reopened the cold-case homicide. He has been in jail without bail since his arrest.
Abrams told Carter that a jail inmate had told about another inmate’s talk of Kerley describing details of killing Dever.
Last week, an investigator in the District Attorney’s Office tracked the inmate, Benjamin Taft, to a prison in Tracy. Taft told the investigator that Kerley told him that Dever started having an affair, which spurred Kerley to attack her as she lay on a tanning bed in their Cordelia home. Kerley claimed he slammed the top of the tanning bed down on Dever repeatedly until she was dead and that he later cut the tanning bed into pieces before hauling it out of the house in a truck, Abrams said.
Taft is the son of retired Solano County Superior Court Judge Franklin Taft, a former brethren with Carter, who was quick in court Monday morning to acknowledge the connection.
Benjamin Taft was in jail for his role in a 2010 Vallejo kidnapping, robbery and shooting. He was sentenced in June to 12 years prison.
The District Attorney’s Office investigator confirmed that Kerley and Taft had been locked up in the same part of the jail, shared times on the jail yard and had been locked up in adjacent cells, Abrams told Carter. The investigator also talked to a third jail inmate, who described a plan that the inmate and Taft cooked up to extort Kerley based on his alleged statements.
Prosecutors unsuccessfully lobbied Carter two weeks ago to allow them to share with jurors testimony about the tanning bed that had been at the couple’s home for several years until just before police resurrected the cold case in 2007 when Dever, who had been missing since her disappearance, was discovered to have been buried years earlier as an unidentified Jane Doe. Prosecutors said they believe Kerley may have cooked Dever’s body in the tanning bed before dumping her body in the remote pasture land.
Kerley’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Dawn Polvorosa, renewed her objections to jurors hearing about the tanning bed and the possibility of dubious jail inmate testimony coming into the trial. Polvorosa asked for a delay of several days for her to investigate Taft and the other inmates. Carter agreed to the request, putting much of the remaining prosecution case on hold until next week when the trial will resume Dec. 3.
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