February 21, 2014

Man pleads guilty in 1992 killing case

Mississippi man says he strangled Toni Spicer in fit of passion.

By Carson Gerber For the Pharos-Tribune

---- — PERU — A 54-year-old Mississippi man pleaded guilty Thursday to killing Toni Spicer, a 27-year-old mother found beaten and strangled to death inside her Miami County trailer in 1992.

Timothy J. Jimerson, 54, D’Iberville, Miss., entered the guilty plea as part of a bargain that reduced the initial charge of murder to voluntary manslaughter with a deadly weapon.

The guilty plea was part of the concluding chapters of a cold case that had stumped police for 20 years before Jimerson was arrested in 2012 in Mississippi.

The story began in August 1992 when Spicer’s friend and two children, then 9 and 7 years old, found their mother dead at their home in Maple Lawn Village Trailer Court, just north of the Howard-Miami county line.

Spicer had been beaten about the head, face and chest, and an autopsy determined she had been strangled to death.

The night of the killing, Spicer had been working at the Hip Hugger strip club in Kokomo as a dancer. A probable cause affidavit says Jimerson was at the bar that night, and followed her to her home.

Jimerson lived across the street from Spicer from 1990 until at least 1994, the affidavit says.

Miami County Prosecutor Bruce Embrey said Jimerson had been drinking and taking pills before he entered Spicer’s trailer, and apparently got angry about something before strangling her to death.

Police conducted a very thorough and detailed investigation of the crime scene, including taking blood samples, Embrey said, but the evidence never pointed to a suspect.

Police actively investigated the cold case over the years, but potential leads always dead ended.

That changed in 2011 when a DNA match consistent with Jimerson was found through the National DNA Database.

Jimerson had served eight months in a Mississippi prison in 2010 for a felony DUI conviction, where police took samples of his DNA.

In March 2012, detectives interviewed Jimerson at his home. He was interviewed again in October 2012 in Biloxi, Miss., where he admitted he was responsible for Spicer’s death, according to court documents.

A jury trial for the murder charge was most recently scheduled for March, before Jimerson accepted the plea bargain Thursday.

Jimerson appeared at the hearing in Miami County Circuit Court wearing an orange jump suit, sandals and handcuffs.

He testified that he strangled Spicer, but acted in a fit of passion and had not intended to kill her when he initially entered the trailer.

Jimerson’s public defender, Gary Cook, said he used some object — possibly pantyhose — to strangle Spicer. Cook said it was clear Jimerson had not used his hands.

In an interview after the hearing, Embrey said voluntary manslaughter with a deadly weapon was more in line with what a jury would likely have decided based on the facts of the case, since Jimerson had not premeditated the killing.

Indiana code says “the existence of sudden heat is a mitigating factor that reduces what otherwise would be murder … to voluntary manslaughter.”

Circuit Court Judge Tim Spahr said he will take the plea agreement under advisement, and decide whether to accept it on March 20.

Voluntary manslaughter with a deadly weapon is a Class A felony that comes with a 20 to 50 year sentence. The plea agreement advises a 30 year sentence.

Embrey said it was the detailed crime-scene investigation that ultimately led to Jimerson’s arrest. He said the killing would likely never have been solved without the DNA match.

“[Crime scene investigators] followed protocol to a T on this,” he said. “Because of preserving that evidence, they were able to get a match down the road.”

Even so, he said it’s the oldest cold case he’s ever seen solved.

“You read about some of these cold cases, but this is the longest one we’ve seen in this jurisdiction,” Embrey said. “I’ve never seen one this long before.”