Editor’s Note: This summary of five full days of testimony given during the murder trial of Kelly Simino for the death of Brandi Mathews contains information and language that may not be suitable for sensitive readers. While the names of witnesses during the trial are public information, LakeExpo.com has intentionally left many of them anonymous for their protection.
LEBANON, Mo. – The jury saw something in Kelly Simino as he sat with cavalier expression smirking through five days of circumstantial evidence against him. Inevitably, a jury would find Simino guilty of second-degree murder for causing the death of Brandi Mathews. Only when the jury returned with a recommended sentence of 20 years in prison, did Simino shed a tear.
Opening arguments began Tuesday, Oct. 25, after the prosecution and the defense spent all day Monday in the Voir dire process selecting the 12-member jury panel with two alternates.
During opening statements, Prosecutor Matt Howard told the jury they would hear testimony proving Simino was so angry at Mathews for allegedly setting him up on a drug buy he admitted to wanting to kill her to several people, including Mathews.
Howard said at the end of the trial there would be pieces missing – the date and time of her death would remain unknown but he believed the State would present enough testimony and evidence to prove Simino recklessly caused Mathews’ death.
Defense attorney David Wallis told the jury the State would not have enough evidence to directly link Simino to Mathews’ death and claimed the majority of the State’s witnesses were “lay witnesses” who use drugs.
Wallis told the jury Mathews had a habit of leaving without telling people where she was as part of, “living a very dangerous life.”
Deanna Roberts, Mathews’ mother, was the first witness called to testify by the prosecution. She testified to hearing Simino threaten to kill Mathews over the telephone in August 2006, after he was served with an ex parte order of protection that indicated Mathews had been working with the police to have him arrested for drugs.
“Brandi was with me in the car when Kelly called. He was screaming and was angry with her,” Roberts said. “He told her ‘you f------- bitch you set me up and I am going to kill you.’ I told Brandi to play stupid and not admit to anything.”
Roberts testified the relationship between Mathews and Simino was violent and her daughter had conveyed to her that she was scared of Simino.
“I heard him yell at her out of anger on several occasions,” Roberts said.
According to Roberts, Mathews started seeing Simino in the summer of 2004 and by the summer of 2006, she feared for Mathews’ safety and the safety of her young son.
On Wednesday, Oct. 26, the State called both an anthropologist and a medical examiner to the stand.
In the experts’ opinions, Mathew’s death was a homicide and the skull had a hole in it consistent with that of a blow to the head, which could have been the cause of death. The official cause remained undetermined.
Additionally, the anthropologist explained that a “shovel-shaped” tool was used to sever the neck and decapitate the body, which explained the three vertebrae found with some sort of cloth near the area where the skull was discovered. The rest of Mathews’ body has not been found.
After the expert witnesses, one of Simino’s former girlfriends testified that shortly after Mathews went missing in 2006, Simino contacted her stating, “I did it.”
When asked what he did, she testified Simino told her he choked Mathews and broke her neck and that her body was at another friend’s residence outside of Eldon.
During cross-examination, the defense attorney asked the former girlfriend if Simino had told her the alleged actions were accidental. She continually rejected the notion.
Throughout questioning, the defense attorney alleged that the former girlfriend was buying drugs and having sex with Simino on or about the time she claims Simino admitted to her that he had allegedly killed Mathews.
In continued questioning, the former girlfriend was asked if Simino was or could be the father to her children. The attorney asked if Simino had requested a paternity test.
The former girlfriend denied all of the allegations.
Retired Eldon Police Officer Jimmy Mays testified that he had spoken with the former girlfriend regarding Simino’s statements about killing Mathews.
Mays said the former girlfriend called him in 2008, nearly two years after Simino’s alleged confession to her. She had heard the police were looking for information about Mathews.
A short time later, Mays and investigators from the Miller and Morgan County Sheriff’s Department searched the property where the former girlfriend said Simino told her he had placed Mathews’ body.
Cadaver dogs were used in the search and while the dog “hit” on an old septic tank on the property, law enforcement did not dig up the tank to check it.
Mays testified that this portion of the investigation had taken place prior to the discovery of Mathews’ partial remains in January of 2009 and it was after that discovery, several months later, that he had written a report of the conversation with Simino’s former girlfriend from memory.
State of Mind
A witness confirmed seeing Simino angry after being arrested when Mathews collaborated with the local police in August of 2006.
“They went to McDonalds to meet her ‘ex.’ [Mathews] went inside,” he said. “[Simino] knew something was wrong. The police caught him with drugs or something. He knew [she] set him up.”
He recalled that Simino was “pissed” after he was released from a 24-hour hold in jail.
“He said, ‘if he could get his hands on that bitch, he’d kill her,’ the witness said. He testified that Simino had made similar threats in the past but this time it seemed more intense.
During cross-examination, the defense attorneys attempted to bring up the fact that the witness currently has 22 counts of forgery pending and that the prosecutor in the murder case against Simino is also the prosecutor in the forgery case against the witness.
After an objection from Howard, the jury was removed from the courtroom. During the remaining questioning, the defense attempted to bring out the fact that the witness had 22 counts of felony forgery, carrying a maximum penalty of 184 years in jail.
The defense attempted to suggest a deal may have been cut with Howard in exchange for his testimony against Simino.
The witness denied the allegations and Judge Kenneth Hayden threw out the testimony before the jury returned to the courtroom.
The trial continued on Thursday, Oct. 27, focusing on Simino’s arrest for drugs.
Drug Task Force Officer Kip Bartlett testified that while working with the Eldon Police Department, he received a telephone call from Mathews in mid-August 2006 stating that Simino would be at McDonalds in Eldon at 6 p.m. that evening and that he would have cocaine on him.
Bartlett testified that Simino was arrested and taken to the Miller County Jail.
Former Drug Task Force Detective John Loveless testified that he served Simino with the ex parte order of protection that stated Mathews had been working with the police to get Simino arrested and that she was in fear he would retaliate when he found out.
Shortly after the restraining order was served, Mathews traveled to her family’s home in Arkansas to visit her mother. It was while in Arkansas during this time period that Mathews received the cell phone call from Simino threatening to kill her.
Simino and Mathews were seen together in the Eldon area after her return from Arkansas. One witness testified to them spending an evening at one of the witness’s rental homes sometime after Simino’s arrest in August.
Mathews went missing in September 2006.
When Simino was charged with second-degree murder in January 2011, the probable cause statement filed with the courts indicated that a person reported to the police that he had witnessed an altercation between Simino and Mathews on Scrivner Road just outside of Eldon sometime around the time of her disappearance.
The witness, who testified in court on Tuesday, Oct. 25, claimed to driving home from fishing one afternoon to see what he believed to be Simino and Mathews involved in an altercation near a car on Scrivner Road located directly off of Business 54, just outside of the city limits of Eldon, more than one-half mile from the location where Mathews’ partial remains were discovered in 2009.
Another witness testified that sometime around late fall, possibly in October of 2008, he and a few friends were riding around one afternoon when they stopped on the bridge on Miller Road. He estimated it was about 4:30 p.m. and as he walked down under the bridge to urinate, a man “popped” out at him, but did not speak to him.
The witness identified the man in court as Simino.
The witness described Simino as wearing casual clothing and although he made eye contact, when asked what Simino was doing he received no response.
The State also brought a man from the Missouri Department of Corrections who testified to dating Mathews, but losing contact with her 2006.
The man testified that he and Simino also had an altercation while in the Moberly Department of Corrections and during the verbal confrontation Simino told him, “I’ll kill you like I killed her.”
The man testified that he believed the “her” that Simino was referring to was Mathews, but he did not use her name.
After the prosecution rested, the defense called several witnesses to the stand including detectives Tracy Robinett and Kevin Friend of the Osage Beach Police Department.
Robinett and Friend previously testified for the prosecution regarding the investigation surrounding Mathews’ disappearance in 2006 that later was classified a homicide in December of 2008.
Both detectives referenced interviews with Simino and witnesses who testified throughout the trial.
The defense also called to the stand a former boyfriend of Mathews who testified seeing her frequently throughout the summer of 2006.
The witness testified that Mathews had warned him about Simino about a month into their relationship and warned him not to have a confrontation with him noting that he was using drugs and she wanted to stay away from him.
Despite Mathews’ warning, the witness testified to having a confrontation with Simino in the parking lot of an Osage Beach business. He said they exchanged words and he described Simino’s demeanor as suspicious.
The witness said he felt like he needed to defend Mathews and after that incident. Mathews stayed with him for a while before getting back together with Simino.
“The evidence is there and you all know that,” Howard said during closing arguments.
Defense Attorney Wallis argued the State did not provide any evidence to directly link Simino to the death of Mathews and that convicting him of second-degree murder would be an injustice.
After approximately five hours of deliberation, the 12-member jury panel unanimously decided to convict Simino of second-degree murder.
In a news release issued by Howard the day after the decision, he said the case was the longest case his office has ever tried and it rested almost entirely on circumstantial evidence.
“It was a long and difficult case,” Howard said. “We had no murder weapon or physical evidence other than Brandi’s remains, only a general time frame of several weeks as to when Brandi died or no evidence as to where she was killed, or whether it even happened in Miller County. We couldn’t tell the jury exactly how it occurred and could only make inferences as to motive. But what we could prove and did prove beyond a reasonable doubt to this jury was that Brandi was killed by a criminal act and that Kelly Simino was in fact responsible for her death.”
In total there were five complete days of testimony from 18 lay witnesses and a forensic anthropologist and medical examiner, 43 evidence exhibits and various fact stipulations given to the jury by agreement between the prosecutor and the defense attorneys.
Following the jury’s verdict of guilt, a second sentencing stage of the proceedings was held and the jury returned a recommendation for punishment of 20 years in prison after only 45 minutes of deliberation.
Simino is scheduled to appear for final sentencing on January 6, 2012 before Circuit Judge Ken Hayden at the Laclede County Courthouse.