Murder suspect takes plea: Friendsville man stabbed neighbor, burned body
By J.J. Kindred | (email@example.com)
Rather than face a jury trial with a minimal chance of being acquitted, a Friendsville man charged with stabbing and burning a man to death in 2008 made a plea bargain in Blount County Circuit Court Tuesday morning.
Jeffrey Lee Jenkins, 39, North Union Grove Road, was charged with stabbing and killing Jerry Lee “Big Daddy” Click on April 18, 2008.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, a Class A felony, and was sentenced to 17 years in prison, with credit for more than four years already served since 2008. He is eligible for a 15 percent reduction in his sentence with good behavior.
Jenkins also pleaded guilty to abusing a corpse, a Class E felony, and was sentenced to two years, to be served together with the murder charge, also with credit for time already served. Another separate charge not part of the indictment, introduction of contraband, was dismissed.
Jenkins made the plea through his attorney, Robert White, to Judge David Duggan and to Blount County Assistant District Attorney Clinton Frazier.
Jenkins told Duggan he signed the plea agreement form, understanding he was indicted by the Blount County grand jury on first-degree murder charges, but was amended to second-degree murder sentence with the plea deal. The sentence was a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of 60 years in prison with a $50,000 fine, while the abusing a corpse sentence was a minimum of one year to a maximum of six years, with a $3,000 fine.
“Do you understand making this plea that you knowingly killed the victim in this case? This conviction could be used against you if you are charged with another crime. Is this (plea) voluntary and not against your free will?” Duggan asked Jenkins.
“Yes,” Jenkins said, showing no emotion.
Details of slaying
The details of Click’s slaying were recounted in a preliminary hearing in August 2008.
Michelle Denise Newman, who lived with Jenkins in her Friendsville home, testified that on the night of April 18, she found Click dead of knife wounds in the small camper he lived in behind her father’s garage.
Newman had been dating Jenkins for about a year and a half, and Click had lived on the property four or five months.
Newman testified that Jenkins and Click got along off and on, but had had no previous physical altercations.
On April 18, Newman said she and Jenkins picked up sticks and were burning them in a fire pit when her son got off the school bus at 4:15 p.m. She took dinner to Click in his camper, and he gave her two beers and cigarettes as she went home. Newman and Jenkins then sat on a picnic table by the fire in the yard.
Jenkins went to Click’s camper and was there about 30 minutes. He and Newman had an altercation because Newman said he threw her rake, the one she had been using to gather sticks, in the fire.
Newman testified that she then threw some other items that belonged to Jenkins on the fire. She said that Jenkins slung her across the yard and squirted lighter fluid all over her and scared her, prompting her to go to Click’s and call 911, but didn’t. She said Click had warned her about Jenkins’ behavior during their relationship.
Newman said she called a friend and asked her to come and get her and Click. The friend reportedly later called back and said she was on the way, but never showed up.
Newman said she was sitting on a stool and Click was sitting on his bed when Jenkins came into the camper and moved toward Click, prompting her to run out because she was scared.
Newman said Jenkins was not in the camper long before he came out. When she went to return Click’s phone, she saw Click lying on the bed with blood on his side, and got no response as she tried to talk to him.
Put body on fire
Newman said she went home upset and said Jenkins assured her that everything would be OK. She said Jenkins asked her to carry Click, but she refused, so he did it himself, putting Click’s body on the fire. He went back to Click’s camper and came back with a mattress and put it on the fire and put the picnic table, lawn chairs and clothes in a bag.
She went to the bathroom and said that Jenkins hit her on the right temple, causing it to bleed. Jenkins then grabbed a towel, put it to her head and apologized. Newman said she then went to her father’s house and woke him up to tell him what had happened.
The next morning, Newman’s father went to the camper and then called the police to report Click’s death. Newman said she didn’t call the police immediately because she was scared of Jenkins.
Blount County Det. Brian Frazier, one of the investigators in the case, showed her a picture of a knife found in the fire pit, which she said looked like the butcher knife she got from her grandmother.
White told Newman during cross-examination that if the door to the camper remained open, she should have heard something, but she denied it.
Newman admitted that she had a “buzz” from the beer at the time of the incident. She also said Click had been drinking but did not appear drunk. She said when she took the phone back to the trailer, Jenkins followed her and then walked her back to her house.
Hit the aorta
Newman said that after taking the phone back to the camper, she feared for hers and her father’s life, and admitted sitting on the porch and watching Click’s body burn.
Frazier testified that when questioning Jenkins, he said it was a mistake, and that he didn’t mean to kill him. He also tried to blame Newman for burning the body.
The autopsy revealed Click died from a knife cut to the upper chest that hit the aorta. There was also a knife cut to his side that lacerated his liver, according to Frazier’s testimony.
Meanwhile, White said after Tuesday’s ruling that he could not comment on the specifics of the plea bargain, but it was something that was in the best interest of Jenkins.
“He was facing a potential charge of first-degree murder which could have brought a life sentence, but we resolved it for 17 years,” White said.