Jessika Kalaher went to a Cedar Park Walmart in September 2009 to buy dog food. A security videotape shows a man following her out of the store, and footage from another camera shows them both in Kalaher’s car as it drove out of the parking lot.
Relatives found Kalaher’s body later that day. Authorities determined the 27-year-old aspiring teacher had been strangled. The capital murder trial began Tuesday for Crispin James Harmel, the 34-year-old man authorities believe is on the tape.
Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty told jurors that Kalaher had never met Harmel. “They didn’t make eye contact, they didn’t speak or acknowledge each other in Walmart or the parking lot because they didn’t know each other,” Duty said.
But after the two left Walmart, Harmel used Kalaher’s debit card to withdraw $20 from an ATM. Harmel later told police he went to a park with Kalaher and that they had consensual sex. Duty said that is not what happened because there was evidence of a violent struggle in the car that showed Kalaher was “kicking and fighting to get away.”
Another video later caught Kalaher’s car returning to a parking lot across the street from the Walmart and showed Harmel getting out of the car and returning to his truck, Duty said.
Witnesses said Kalaher began to move around in her parked car, got up and walked around it before getting back into it, Duty said. The last time a witness saw Kalaher alive was around noon when Kalaher moving her head back and forth inside the car and drawing figure eights on the windshield, Duty said. By the time her friends found her car that afternoon, Kalaher was dead.
Duty said Kalaher had bruises on her neck that indicated she had been strangled, and that medical experts would testify that a person can succumb to a delayed death from strangulation.
One of Harmel’s lawyers, Ryan Deck, said the two did know each other and had arranged to meet at the Walmart. He said Kalaher was very kindhearted and had previously given other people money. Harmel was unemployed and homeless at the time.
Deck also said there was no physical evidence tying his client to the crime. “There’s no DNA, no fingerprints, no hair, no trace evidence,” he said. “When Crispin Harmel met with police after it happened he had zero cuts, zero abrasions on his hands. If he had murdered this woman it is a miracle if nothing shows up,” Deck said.
Deck also said that the dark figure seen on videotape getting out of Kalaher’s car when it was parked across from Walmart was not Harmel but was the person who really killed Kalaher.
Kalaher’s father, Rick Kalaher, was the first witness to testify Tuesday. He said his daughter, who had graduated with honors from Texas State University, was a bubbly person with an infectious smile who had worked at H-E-B for more than 15 years. She struggled financially because she was trying to get a teaching job and there was a hiring freeze at the time.
“She had just paid her rent and she had no money that day,” he said.