CRAWFORD COUNTY - What has turned out to be Crawford County’s first homicide case in recent history came to an end late the night of Monday, Nov. 13.
Jimmy D. McDaniel, of Hampton, Georgia, was found guilty of first-degree reckless homicide, and strangulation and suffocation, and will be held in the Crawford County Jail until sentencing on January 5.
The case began just over a year ago on October 5, 2016, when the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call just after midnight from a residence on Velvet Lane in Bridgeport Township.
Officers responded to the call and found Linda Kline, lying on the ground beneath a structure used for hanging bird feeders. There was a white household extension cord, hanging from the T-shaped structure, and her on-again-off-again boyfriend Jimmy McDaniel, was performing CPR on her lifeless body.
Court documents show that Deputy Kyle Mezera, who was among the first on the scene, questioned McDaniel.
McDaniel explained to the investigating officers that he and Kline had been watching television together. McDaniel said that he had gone to bed, and around 8:45 p.m., emerged to look for Kline. It wasn’t until several hours later that McDaniel called 911, reporting Kline dead from what he reported as a suicide by hanging. Throughout the case, McDaniel had been unable to explain the lapse in time from his initial search for Kline, to the call to authorities.
That night, Kline’s body was transferred to UW-Madison for an autopsy, and McDaniel was dropped off at a motel in Prairie du Chien.
The autopsy revealed injuries that were consistent with blunt force trauma to the head, neck and face area. The pathologist in charge of the case stated the death was not asphyxiation or death by hanging, but rather blunt force trauma to the head and face area, and strangulation prior to the alleged hanging. T
The death was ruled a homicide. The pathologist even went a step further to classify Kline’s death as a “staged hanging” or “staged suicide.”
Following this development, officers from the county sheriff’s department went to the motel to apprehend McDaniel. They reportedly found him awaiting the SMRT bus, which he was planning to take to LaCrosse to catch a flight back home to Georgia.
A year later, McDaniel sat in Crawford County Court for nearly a week of trial proceedings surrounding the incident that occurred October 5, 2016.
Many of Kline’s family members filled the courtroom, often heard audibly sobbing through display of the graphic photos and verbal descriptions offered up to the jury. Additionally, family members, including Kline’s mother and niece, took the stand to describe Kline’s relationship with McDaniel.
The theme of the relationship throughout the trial seemed to be time spent on the road, often fueled by arguments and alcohol.
The next day of trial brought Lieutenant Investigator Jayden McCullick to the stand.
McCullick told the court he received a call around 2:30 a.m. of a suspicious death - possibly a homicide - in Bridgeport Township.
“The boyfriend of the victim couldn’t account for a big share of time,” McCullick noted. “And the post the victim was allegedly hanging from was in question, as if it could even support the 150 pounds of dead weight.”
McCullick described to the courtroom how he, Lieutenant Ryan Fradette and Lieutenant Wade Hutchison discussed the probability of the structure being able to hold “150 pounds of dead weight.”
“It appeared to be a weathered and rotten 4x4 post, with a 2x2 deck spindle, that was buried in the ground. It was extremely weathered and rotten.”
McCullick told the court that he returned to the scene the next day to “get a better look at things in the daylight.”
Extensive measurements were taken of the backyard, along with many photos.
Crawford County District Attorney Timothy Baxter even went as far as to bring out a tape measure, to show the distance from the basement door to where Kline was found, along with other locations, such as trees in the yard. Baxter continued to note in his questions that there was in fact, little obscuring the view from the basement door to Kline’s body.
Throughout this line of questioning, McDaniel sat next to his public defenders Jeff Erickson and Vincent Rust. Wearing a wrinkled brown sport jacket and leather shoes, McDaniel fidgeted his feet and consistently sipped from a small white Styrofoam cup in front of him, while scribbling brief notes to his attorneys, to which they responded with subtle head movements.
McDaniel’s defense objected to the consistent questioning about the integrity of the post, but were overruled by Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Lynn Ryder.
“I think it’s something he can attest to in his own observation,” Ryder noted, supporting McCullick’s finding that the post appeared rotten.
The state brought the actual 2x2 cross post that was attached to the 74.5-inch post into the courtroom, and handed it to McCullick, who opened the evidence box with a small Swiss army knife.
During this a photo of Kline’s body at the scene was brought onto the screen, eliciting more audible sobs from a number of family members sitting behind the defense table.
McCullick questioned the knot in the cord this time.
“One of the issues that raised a lot of questions was the matter of this knot, and if 150 pounds of weight could be supported,” McCullick said.
Baxter however, focused once again in the T-shaped structure from which Kline was alleged to have hung herself from.
“The T-portion looks pretty straight. Was it bent or tilted in any way?” Baxter questioned, indicating the photo on the screen of Kline’s body. Her body was laid in what the defense later called “a frog pose”- on her back, with legs bent at the knee and with feet together, with a straight T-post above her and the white extension cord dangling.
“It looked rotten,” McCullick said once again. “I reached up and grabbed the cross member with one hand, and with very little force it came right off.”
“Did you need to rock it or use your body weight to remove it?” Baxter questioned.
“No, I merely grabbed it and it came free,” McCullick said once more. “There was a lot of punkie wood in the threads of the screws.”
“Is there any part of that cord that appears to have any kinks?” Baxter asked McCullick.
“Not that I can see,” the lieutenant responded.
Things took a more arguemenative tone when the defense began to cross-examine McCullick.
“You’re not a chemist, physisct or engineer,” a raspy Erickson quipped.
“No” McCullick responded bluntly.
“Prior to this, you hadn’t done any torque testing on the post or to your knowledge it wasn’t tested chemically?” Erickson continued.
“I looked at the wood, and it looked like a rotten piece of wood,” McCullick responded, red in the face with sweat on his brow.
“But it hasn’t been tested for parasites or bacteria, has it?” Erickson went on to question.
“We can speculate all day…” McCullick said, tone slightly louder.
Baxter stepped in with an objection, citing the conversation becoming argumentative in nature. This caused the defense to switch gears, and begin discussing the trees in the backyard extensively.
McDaniel’s defense rocked in their chairs, chewing on pens during the questioning, while McDaniel continued to take sip after sip from his small white Styrofoam cup, shaking his head.
Lieutenant Wade Hutchison was brought to the stand next, and described what he saw upon his arrival.
“I observed what appeared to be a lifeless body in the grass,” Hutchison said.
He continued to note that he assisted with taking photos and documenting the scene.
“The victim had dark markings on her face, specifically a black-and-blue mark on her lip,” Hutchinson recalled. “She also had black-and-blue marks, and a deep mark on her neck.”
The key witness for the state, Dr. Michael Stier, took the stand next.
Stier is an Associate Professor of Pathology at UW-Madison, who also performs autopsies and consults on cases that involve law enforcement. He noted that he has done about 4,000 autopsies, and that it makes up the bulk of his day-to-day work.
“I feel I have a commitment to public health,” Stier said with pride. “This is what I do.”
Stier told the court that he performed the initial autopsy on Kline when she was brought in, but additionally, he performed a second one the next day.
“The second exam I do most commonly is when they’re complicated, and there is a lot to think about,” Stier said.
Stier also noted that upon arrival he receives a “story” about how the person died.
“They told me the alleged person found Kline partially suspended on a laundry pole,” Stier said. “It appeared to be a hanging.”
“Tell us about that. Are there specific things that you’re looking for?” Baxter questioned.
“I’m not looking for anything specific,” Stier responded. “I’m looking for everything, that’s why what I’m told is just a story. The autopsy is a fact-finding mission. It’s what I see. It’s what I feel. It’s what I smell. I do the examination from head to toe.”
Stier went on to explain what is typically found in the case of a hanging. “I’ve done a lot of autopsies involving hangings. I do all of the autopsies in the jail system, and there are a lot of hangings there.”
The pathologist told the court that what is known as a ligature furrow, which is a mark on the neck created by what the person was hung with, is usually always found in the case of a hanging. He went on to explain you can also, in some cases, have a ligature furrow from strangulation. However, as Stier noted, the orientation of the furrow is usually different in both cases.
Stier noted that in his initial visual observation of Kline he observed that she “sustained a lot of blunt trauma….it was extensive on her person. She also had an injury to the neck, strangulation. She had components of a ligature strangulation, as opposed to a hanging,” the animated pathologist described.
He continued to note that Kline had seven blunt trauma bruises to the head, with the largest being a half of a foot-directly on the back of her head. She had a laceration on her left ear, seven bruises to the chest, and one to the abdomen.
“Miss Kline also had one (bruise) on her back so severe you could see the hemorrhage on (the) front,” Steir recalled. “She had lots of bruises about the body- more than 20.”
The graphic photos from the autopsy flashed across the screen of the monitor in the courtroom, visually disturbing Kline’s family, which included her mother, and some of her six children.
Stier became animated and excited when discussing the matter of Kline’s death, beyond the bruising.
“What I observed were features of manual strangulation, and ligature strangulation. NOT HANGING!” Stier said with gusto, directly to the jurors.
He also pointed out two small marks on Kline’s neck he found during the examination of her body.
“Two millimeter and three millimeter, very small, but very significant. Those are nail marks from Kline trying to remove the hands of an assailant,” Stier said, while placing his own hands around his throat.
Other observations he noted were pinpoint hemoranges in the face, gums, eyelids, and nose, from what he believes was intermediate compression of the neck.
“It’s a hallmark of manual or homicidal strangulation!” Steir nearly shouted in the court.
He emphasized that Klein’s body lacked the signature ligature furrow, once again nearly shouting, as he expressed this to the court and jury.
“I saw the household electrical cord, and that would cause the furrow very, very quickly,” he said.
“There is no question she was fighting. Bruises on hands and finger marks, hallmark, textbook signs of trying to remove hands from the neck. It’s cut and dry, textbook, manual strangulation,” Stier said, with out a sliver of doubt in his voice. “Absolutely ZERO components of hanging.”
Another interesting finding, Stier noted, was that Kline had what he called “an amazing looking liver,” noting she had no evidence of liver disease whatsoever, and no evidence of chronic long-term alcohol use in the liver. This, despite the defense noting that Kline was a heavy drinker, and that frequent falls were what caused such significant bruising.
The defense continued that day with cross-examination of Stier. However, he never swayed from his strong standing on Kline’s death being a homicide.
The next day of the trial brought the forensic pathologist, who was hired by the defense to review the case.
Dr. Carl Wigren flew in from Seattle to testify about his findings in this case.
It was noted in the state’s cross-examination that Wigren was receiving payment of $400 a hour for his testimony, in addition to payment for travel time, and time spent reviewing the details of the case.
Wigren noted that he had reviewed the details of the case, the autopsy, and additionally, details involving Kline’s two previous attempts at suicide, and her medical visits to Crossing Rivers Healthcare in Prairie du Chien. These visits were follow-ups for a serious ATV accident she had sustained in July.
Wigren went into the details of Kline’s two previous attempts at suicide. The first was in February of 2016, when she consumed a bottle of Tylenol PM following an argument with McDaniel, according to Wigren. The second was in May of 2016 when she ran onto an interstate highway, again following an argument with McDaniel. Wigen noted both attempts were at night, and that her “success” was also at night.
“The person who called 911 was McDaniel. He attempted to save her life,” Wingren said. “I have to consider these previous suicide attempts in the result of what caused her death.”
Wigren noted that an ATV accident in July also had a huge effect on Kline’s quality of life.
She had been suffering from a staph infection known as MRSA in her ribcage, where hardware was installed following the accident. He noted that he read in her doctor’s notes that she had a pic line in her arm, through which she received antibiotics intravenously. He noted that she had pulled it out herself the day of the incident.
Kline also had a feeding tube because of her “failure to thriv,” which she had refused to use at the doctor’s appointment, days before her death. She was also prescribed Oxycontin for pain, and Flexeril, a muscle relaxant-both of which, Wigren noted, she allegedly consumed in excess, often with alcohol.
It was the belief of Wigren that her previous suicide attempts, dependency on alcohol and Oxycontin, and the pain and suffering she felt from the infection and injury, that culminated and became just too much to bear on the night that she allegedly hung her self.
“She had a chronic condition. The doctor tells her she will stay on antibiotics for another three months, and may need another surgery to replace the hardware,” Wigren summarized. “It’s bad news for a patient, you learn you will keep feeling that pain, and have to keep going to the doctor.”
Wigren also added briefly that Kline had suffered two traumatic brain injuries from falls, with loss of consciousness, in 2015 and 2016.
Wigren explained to the court that he believed that Kline could indeed have hung herself, while only leaving a furrow on her back.
He noted he believed that she was on her knees, partially suspended, leaning into the cord, and “teetered until she lost consciousness.”
He noted that there was no ligature furrow because she was “released from the ligature very shortly after death,” and that the furrow had disappeared by the time Stier had conducted the autopsy.
At the end of the day on Friday, McDaniel took the stand and was sworn in to testify in Crawford County Circuit Court.
McDaniel initially described meeting Kline on October 11, 2015, at a truckers’ terminal in Virginia.
The pair were both over-the-road truckers for Swift Trucking.
“We were both pulling in at the same time. We parked next to each other, and she hopped out of the cab of her truck and waved at me,” McDaniel said with a smile.
“I got myself all put together, and went inside, and saw she was having trouble scanning paperwork. I asked if I could assist her with the papers, and then we ended up walking and talking, and standing and talking, for about two hours. We had a lot in common. I can’t say I ever got butterflies before, but with her I had butterflies when I saw her. We just did the ol’ two step, and I gave her my number, and got back on the road.”
McDaniel went on to describe how Kline had just started to drive over the road semi. They would meet at different terminals throughout the country, and continue to visit and talk.
“We talked about being a team driver,” said McDaniel. “The attraction was there, and we wanted to start a relationship. I never thought I’d drive a truck with candles, but that was Linda. In our conversations, we found out we were both married. I was going through difficulties in my marriage, and she with hers. My home was in Georgia and hers was in Maryland. We had a wonderful time together. It was kind of flattering for me. I didn’t think I’d get butterflies in my stomach until I met her.”
Although McDaniel initially described the pair’s meeting as “love at first sight,” the description took a dramatic change when his counsel asked him if he had ever encountered any “red flags” with Kline.
“Initially, the first day we met, on October 11, 2015, when she came back from eating, and I was sitting in my truck, I knew right then that she was drunk. And I said ‘Are you kidding me? You’re driving your truck and drinking?’ She tried to come over to me, but she couldn’t, she was stumbling. I gave her a talking to. I used to be a mentor driver, and I was the more experienced driver. But I didn’t think much of it. As you get to know a person, you try to find out as much as you can about them, but just bringing it up (Kline’s drinking) was like ‘Don’t ever try to tell me what to do!’ I got a lot of pushback from Linda, and her alcohol tolerance was really low.”
McDaniel went on to describe an incident when Kline drank a few martinis and was playing pool. Her pool playing ability (which McDaniel noted was excellent) declined dramatically, and she fell down and cracked her tailbone.
He also described the first time Kline acted particularly strange in front of him.
“I made an effort to talk to her about those issues. It was New Years in Albany, and we were at a truck stop, drinkin.’ The truck was shut down, and she gets upset, and gets out of the truck. I didn’t think much of it. I just thought she was blowing off steam. But time passes, and I’m kind of hysterical. I’m running around asking people if they saw this beautiful blonde? I saw her wandering in the woods. I tried to talk to her about it, but with Linda, when something was over, it was over. The next day, it was over, and you just didn’t talk about it anymore.”
This incident, or others, didn’t seem to sway McDaniel in his description of their relationship. He noted several times how Kline “gave him butterflies.”
However, he went on to describe the first time Kline tried to commit suicide after he told her he wasn’t sure he wanted to be with her.
“She said if we’re not together, she will take these pills, and never wake up, and she poured a bunch of Tylenol PM in her hand, and took the whole bottle. She went limp in my arms, and other than my mother passing, that was the most terrible thing I’ve ever experienced. They had to pry my hands off of her,” McDaniel’s said, in a flat tone.
The jury recessed at that over the weekend, and reconvened Monday to listen to further testimony from McDaniel.
Although drinking and Kline’s suicide attempts continued be a theme, there was still the nagging fact that McDaniel could not account for those several hours from when he went to look for Kline until he called 911. This, and other strikes against him, seemed to seal his fate,
The jury retired to deliberate Monday afternoon at 3:40 p.m., and emerged at 10:30 p.m. to announce finding Jimmy D. McDaniel guilty of homicide.