SAN BERNARDINO– On Sept. 15, 2005, Susan came home after work to find her mother, Josephine Kelley, dead at their home on Muscupiabe Street in the City of San Bernardino.
Josephine Kelley was found on her bed, bound by masking tape and audio/visual cables. A pillowcase was over her head. The coroner overseeing this case, Dr. Frank Sheridan, noted that she had been struck in the head at least once and that Ms. Kelley had a bruise on her lips consistent with her being smothered or struck with a hard object. Dr. Sheridan concluded that Ms. Kelley was killed by homicidal asphyxiation. This was either an intentional smothering or positional asphyxiation because of the restrictions on her movement due to the bindings, pillowcase and the blows to the head.
The house had been ransacked and various items of jewelry, rare and foreign coins and a large amount of quarters kept in liquor jars was missing, along with a semi-automatic rifle that belonged to Ms. Kelley’s grandson, Derrick.
The last person to see Ms. Kelley alive was in fact her grandson, Derrick, who lived with his mother and grandmother in the same house.
During early interviews conducted by investigators, the name Sherry Beck was mentioned. She was identified as being at the house talking to Derrick within two hours of the crime. Beck was interviewed and initially said that police should look at a person later identified as Kiesha Smith who lived in an apartment complex where Beck recently lived.
After more information was developed, Beck was interviewed on three more occasions. She eventually confessed to detectives that she was angry at Derrick. Beck was in a car giving Kiesha Smith and her boyfriend—later identified as Michael Mitchell—a ride on the day before the murder. Beck said that Mitchell and Smith asked her if she knew any good burglary targets.
According to Deputy District Attorney Andrew Turk, who prosecuted the case, Beck pointed out the Muscupiabe house and told Mitchell and Smith that it was a good place to burglarize and Derrick was a good target.
The day of the murder, Mitchell, Smith and Beck met and a plan was hatched for Beck to go to Derrick’s house and get him to leave so the house could be burglarized. Beck was also supposed to report back on whom else might have been home. Beck told detectives she went to the house and hung out with Derrick. She discovered that Josephine Kelley was home and Derrick was not interested in leaving.
While Beck was at the house Kiesha Smith walked up the driveway and said she was looking for a lost cat. Beck told detectives that this was a ruse to find out what was taking Beck so long. Beck said she made hand gestures to Smith indicating that the plan should be called off due to Derrick and his grandmother being home. Smith left Beck and Derrick in the garage.
Soon after, Derrick’s friend Chris arrived at the house and Beck left. Beck told detectives she encountered Mitchell and Smith driving a dark SUV on the way home and told them that the plan should be abandoned. Derrick and Chris left with Derrick telling his grandmother goodbye. Ms. Kelley was discovered dead by Susan approximately one and a half hours after Derrick and Chris left the house.
In Oct. 2005, a search warrant was served at the house of Michael Mitchell’s mother in Rialto. Many items of jewelry and rare coins identified as coming from the Muscupiabe house were found in a bedroom Mitchell and Smith shared, as well as in a dark SUV registered to Smith. Police also found that two days after the murder, Michael Mitchell had sold a large amount of jewelry from the scene of the crime at a pawn shop in Fontana.
Smith was arrested for a probation violation and Mitchell was arrested for receiving stolen property. While Smith was in custody, she told another inmate that she was actually in custody for a robbery where a lady had died. She said that the lady wouldn’t stop struggling and that she had put a pillowcase over the lady’s head. She also noted that Mitchell had hit the lady until she stopped screaming and fighting and that they had stolen jewelry and rare coins and put them in Smith’s vehicle.
Kesha Williams—who lived at the house with Mitchell, Smith and Mitchell’s mother—said that Smith mentioned she and Mitchell had been involved some residential burglaries and the last one “went bad.”
Mitchell’s mother, Theresa, came forward in 2013, and told detectives about some incidents at her house in the fall of 2005. Theresa said the first incident involved overhearing Smith talking about a burglary where the person was yelling and fighting and Mitchell told Smith to put a pillowcase over her head. Smith also was talking about Mitchell hitting the victim to keep her quiet.
The second incident Theresa talked about was Smith coming home and crying. Smith told Theresa that “the lady died,” that Smith didn’t know the lady was dead. Finally, Theresa said she walked in on Mitchell describing an incident where Mitchell had to hit a woman to keep her quiet. Theresa also reported seeing large jars of quarters in the garage prior to the search warrant being served at her house.
“There were some common themes across the victim impact statements given by Ms. Kelley’s daughter, son and daughter in law at each sentencing,” said DDA Turk. “There was the disbelief that a group of people in their early twenties couldn’t have just burglarized the house without assaulting an elderly person and causing her death. And then they all expressed how horrible it was that a sweet, kind lady had spent her last moments in terror.”
(source/photos: San Bernardino County District Attorney)