On Nov. 15, 2008, 23-year-old Emily Milling of Moody disappeared, and was never heard from again. Her bruised, battered body was found off of Marqueeta Road days after her life ended.
Last week, a St. Clair County jury found Michael Brandon Kelley, 29, guilty of her murder.
After 45 minutes of deliberation, the jury came back with unanimous guilty verdicts for three charges — capitol murder, capitol murder during sexual abuse, and sexual torture, and later, the recommendation that Kelley should be sentenced to death for his crimes.
A host of individuals involved with the case offered testimonies throughout the week to give the jury a clearer picture of what happened on Nov. 14 and 15, leading up to Milling's disappearance. While the facts of the case had been previously known to both sides, Kelley gave his newest account of the events.
Kelley testified that he went to visit his children, now ages 10 and 3, on Nov. 14, 2008. His visit concluded by 11 a.m., and he started consuming alcohol. Kelley testified that he drank between 44 and 48 beers over the next 15 hours. During that time he was seen leaving the Central Club with Milling by several witnesses and was also seen leaving on a security tape played during the trial.
Kelley said that after riding around with some friends and later dropping them off at Trail's End Trailer Park, he made a few more stops at friends’ houses before arriving at the Central Club in Leeds after 1 a.m.
He said that within five minutes of his arrival, Kelley saw a friend of his, and later was approached by Milling. She had dated a friend of Kelley's, and he estimated he’d known her for 10 years prior to the day of her disappearance.
Kelley and Milling left the club, he said, to show Milling where her former boyfriend currently lived.
“We drove up, and no one was there. The lights were off,” Kelley testified. “I didn't get out of the car, and we left to go back to the Central Club.”
On the way, Kelley said they met up with two men, identified as Salvador and Daniel, with whom he worked at C & B Piping in Leeds during a two-and-a-half week tenure in September. The men followed Kelley and Milling back to Kelley's trailer to “party.”
After consuming between 1.5 and 2 grams of cocaine that Salvador and Daniel had, Kelley said he left to get more cocaine. When he was unable to find any cocaine in Moody, he returned to the trailer to tell his guests he was going to try to get cocaine in Birmingham. He testified that Milling and Salvador were on the front steps smoking when he arrived, and neither objected to his leaving.
“I did eventually find some cocaine,” Kelley said, noting that he purchased one-half ounce of cocaine for $500 in Birmingham. “I went back to the trailer, and no one was there. I walked in and passed out on the bed. … Salvador and Daniel's car was not there.”
He said he slept until 5:30 a.m., when he received a phone call asking about Milling's whereabouts.
“After a few minutes, I noticed something in the hallway, someone laying there,” Kelley said. “I walked over, and noticed a blue sleeping bag over someone. It was Emily.”
Kelley said he then left for Oak Trail Apartments in Leeds, where he said Salvador and Daniel lived. He said he a conversation with Salvador and Daniel, he returned to the trailer and walked around outside to decide what to do next. Kelley attempted to put Milling's clothes back on, then picked up her body and started to carry her body to his truck.
“When I got to the front door, she slipped out of my arms,” Kelley told the jury. “I picked her back up and put her in the black of my Blazer.”
He said he discarded her body off of Marqueeta Spur Road shortly after 5:30 a.m. Nov. 16. He said he then collected and discarded Milling's clothes, his own clothes, and some other garbage in a dumpster at his father's business.
He said he returned home, started consuming the cocaine purchased hours before, and then slept until 3:30 p.m. When a police officer showed up at his door, Kelley said he called the Moody Police Department to report that the officer was making threats to him.
Kelley said he then went to his parents’ house to see his children before leaving Saturday evening for California for his job as a truck driver, where he was later detained on an unrelated charge.
Prosecution was quick to show inconsistencies between Kelley's story and the other testimonies provided, as well as the timeliness with which the story was revealed.
“I never told anyone this story, because I was scared for what would happen to my family,” Kelley said in court. “I was scared that my children and my parents would get killed. I was scared I would get blamed for it.”
After his alleged side of the night of Nov. 14-15 was told, he was asked by St. Clair District Attorney Richard Minor and Assistant D.A. Carol Boone to explain inconsistencies in his story. He admitted to lying to Det. Renee Reaves of the Leeds Police Dept. about dropping Milling back off at the Central Club.
“He’s had 19 months, a little over 630 days [in jail] and he comes up with this story Tuesday afternoon that he’s never told anyone,” said District Attorney Richard Minor during his closing argument. “He had a number of opportunities, had it been true, to tell it to law enforcement. He even called the Moody Police Department, knowing there was a dead body in his trailer. It makes absolutely no sense.”
Throughout the trial, Kelley maintained his innocence.
“I didn't kill her,” he told the jury. “If I had killed her, I would have cleaned up the blood.”
Sobs abounded from both sides of the courtroom when the jury returned with their verdict of guilty on all three counts.
Family members and friends later took the stand to share what a kind, courteous and generous young man Kelley is. But after another 45 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a 10-2 vote favoring the death penalty.
“They’re murderers, too,” Kelley's mother, Allison, sobbed in the empty courtroom, after the recommendation was made. “They're doing exactly what they accused him of doing.”
Kelley will be sentenced at on Nov. 18.