Jurors in the 59th state District Court took just one hour Wednesday to determine the fate of a man they convicted earlier in the week for drug possession and distribution.
John Francis Kennedy showed no emotion as the jury sentenced him to life in prison for the drug charges. It won’t be Kennedy’s first trip to prison. Jurors heard he had been there before for both drug related charges and driving while intoxicated 3rd or more offense.
During the punishment phase of the trial, prosecutors Britton Brooks and Michael Sissney presented evidence they said proved that in addition to being a drug dealer, Kennedy was also a killer.
Though Kennedy was not indicted for murder, prosecutors said he beat and choked Rhonda Jordan in January of 2018 at her mother’s house on Contemporary in Sherman. She died days later in a Dallas hospital.
Collin County Medical Examiner William Rohr said Jordan, who was 53 when she died, died of homicidal violence and she had bleeding between her brain and skull that was consistent with blunt force trauma. She also had various injuries on her legs and arms and a large burn on her chest. Rohr said she did have methamphetamine in her system at the time of her death but it was not a contributing factor to her death, nor was her heart disease or her Hepatitis C or Cirrhosis of the liver.
She also had a broken nose, that he said went undetected at the hospital in Sherman.
Rohr said methamphetamine can cause a brain bleed but not the kind that Jordan suffered. He said it could have been caused by a violent shaking.
Jurors spent part of the day Tuesday and most of the day Wednesday listening to Kennedy talk, via a videoed interview, with Sherman police detectives about his interaction with Jordan in the hours before he called authorities to her house from a phone at Wilson N. Jones. He didn’t tell the 911 operator who he was or that he had been living with Jordan for months or that they had engaged in a physical fight that night.
Over hours of discussion, Sherman Detective Jamie Bunetto, was able to get Kennedy to talk about the fight. Though he admitted that he choked Jordan and held her down, he adamantly denied striking her in the nose. He finally ended the interview by walking out on the questioners.
Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said that murder charge remains on hold for the time being.
“I am certainly pleased with the efforts of our prosecutors and our investigator,” Smith said. “I am pleased with the efforts of the Sherman Police Department and the Denison Police Department in this case for the guilt innocence evidence that Denison put on and the punishment evidence that Sherman put on. Obviously we can’t do this without the fine citizens of this county that listen to the evidence and rendered what I believe to be an appropriate verdict today.”
Smith said if the jury found that the previous convictions presented by prosecutors were real, they had to start at the 25 to life punishment level. Then they were allowed to consider the extraneous bad acts that the prosecutors presented including testimony that a park ranger and his wife witnessed Kennedy pull Jordan out of a vehicle at a state park and stomp on her head and body. Also they were allowed to consider his testimony about his interaction with Jordan in the hours before she was found sitting in an unresponsive state in her front yard.
“I suspect that weighed heavily on their decision to sentence him to life,” Smith said.
Testimony in the trial revealed that Jordan had also been to prison and that she had a drug problem, however, Smith said, that didn’t mean she deserved to die the way she did.
Kennedy’s attorney, Gregg Gibbs had asked the jury not to consider the murder allegations when sentencing his client. He said his client was willing to do the time for the crime for which he had been convicted but if the state wanted to bring a charge as serious as murder, they should have to bring it in an indictment and then prove it up.
“Let’s have a full blown trial,” Gibbs said. He then said he wasn’t telling the jury his client did cause Jordan’s death and he wasn’t saying he didn’t.
“This is a sham way in my opinion to bring that case,” he said.
He also told the jury they could sentence his client to life in prison without considering the murder allegations.
Gibbs had Judge Larry Phillips sign a right to appeal for his client before the sentence was pronounced. Gibbs declined a request to speak about the verdict.