CRAWFORD COUNTY - Jimmy D. McDaniel was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision for first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Linda Kline on October 5, 2016.
Judge Lynn Rider pronounced the sentence following a lengthy hearing in Crawford County Circuit Court on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. Rider also sentenced McDaniel to concurrently serve two years in prison and three years under extended supervision on the charge of strangulation-suffocation.
A jury found McDaniel guilty on both charges on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, following a three-day trial.
The sentencing hearing last Friday, like the arrest and trial, had more than a few unusual moments. When you think about it, it was probably bound to happen. The trial of Jimmy McDaniel for the murder of his girlfriend Linda Kline was involved and complicated. So, it probably wasn’t a surprise that the sentencing hearing was lengthy and a bit unusual.
The hearing started five minutes late, while about 35 people waited for the defendant to be brought into the courtroom.
The 25 to 30 friends and family of Linda Kline, as well as a scattering of interested onlookers, talked quietly among themselves. They were joined by several sheriff’s department investigators and deputies that had been involved in the case.
When the 50-year-old McDaniel arrived he looked composed, almost relaxed, and ready for the hearing. He was dressed in his orange short-sleeve prison scrub shirt. Underneath the scrub, he wore a dark long-sleeved shirt. His short graying Afro haircut and well-trimmed beard presented a neat appearance. He was not shackled or restrained.
McDaniel took his seat next to his attorney Jeff Erickson and spoke briefly with him. He was the only black person in the courtroom and that represented an issue that would surface later in the hearing.
Shortly after McDaniel arrived, Crawford County Circuit Judge Lynn Rider got the proceedings underway. The judge asked the attorneys if they had additions or corrections to the Pre-Sentence Investigation prepared by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Erickson noted his client’s service in the U.S. Navy was recorded in the PSI as one year, when in fact it was eight years from 1985 to 1993. He also noted for the record that McDaniel was raised in the City of Newburg in Craven County, North Carolina.
For his part, Baxter read the victim impact statement of Kline’s sister Michelle Little. Kline and McDaniel were living at Little’s residence at the time of Kline’s death.
Of the large gathering of family and friends of Kline at the hearing only three chose to speak. The first was Dennis Munz, Linda Kline’s brother.
Munz chose to make his remarks from the witness stand and he looked directly at McDaniel seated in front of him at the defense table as he spoke.
“I want to address you Jimmy, but I don’t know where to start,” Munz said. “I don’t know why you had to kill her. I don’t know why you couldn't just leave here and not come back. I don’t understand why you beat her to death.”
Munz took issue with statements made at the trial that Linda Kline tried to commit suicide several times.
“I know my sister and she would never want to commit suicide,” Munz said. “I believe she was drugged.”
Kline’s brother also took issue with McDaniel’s version of a four-wheeler accident, which severely injured Kline, who was a passenger on the ATV driven by McDaniel. Munz said he did not believe it was an accident.
“There was not a scratch on you,” Munz said to McDaniel. “There was not a scratch on the four-wheeler. I believe you pushed her off and into a tree.”
Munz continued to address McDaniel seated at the defense table directly in front of him.
“I’m sorry for you,” Munz said. “I hope this court puts you in prison for the rest of your life.
“I hope every single night you see your hands around her throat and look into her eyes,” Munz told McDaniel. “You didn’t love her. You hated her. You wanted her gone.”
At one point in his testimony, Munz questioned why the one time he met McDaniel with his mother at a family gathering, McDaniel had “so much hatred” for them when he had only met them once.
Munz finished his presentation by reading a letter from Linda’s husband, Rob Kline. In that written message, it appeared that Kline might be trying to insult and agitate McDaniel.
“Hey Dmitri (McDaniel’s middle name) you look good in orange,” Kline’s written statement began. It went on to talk about life in prison and the possibility of McDaniel finding someone “to snuggle with” in prison.
McDaniel’s composure seemed to crack a bit during the Munz statement.
Rob Kline’s written statement told McDaniel to read Psalm 28:3-5 and ended with an ominous final thought.
“I want you to die the same way she did,” Kline wrote.
The next to speak was Linda Kline’s mother Colleen Munz, who with some effort made her way to the witness stand carrying a bag.
From the bag she produced two small containers containing some of the ashes of each of her daughters Linda and Michelle.
“That’s all I have left,” the mother said indicating the two containers of ashes placed on the railing of the witness stand.
Colleen Munz explained that she believed the death of Linda had caused her sister Michelle to die the following year.
“You’ve taken both my girls away from me,” Munz told McDaniel as she looked at him from the stand.
“Why did you do it, when you could’ve just walked away?’ Munz asked McDaniel, as she wiped her nose and drank water from a plastic bottle.
“Why beat someone so bad? Why, when you could’ve just walked away? Jimmy why did you kill her? You can’t be human.
“I hope you rot in hell,” the distraught mother said. “You need to be in prison for the rest of your life. You don’t deserve to be out free.”
“I met you once in Illinois and I knew you were bad,” Colleen Munz said.
The final person to take the stand was Linda Kline’s daughter, Stephanie Kenning.
Kenning sobbed audibly as she sat in the stand holding a photo of her family that she propped up on the railing pointed in the direction of McDaniel.
“Today marks 458 days since you decided to end my mother’s life and forever change mine and (the lives of) my five children,” Kline’s daughter said. “For 458 days, I have suffered from depression and anxiety.”
Kline’s daughter said that she sees a counselor every week and a psychiatrist every two weeks. She has also been hospitalized for treatment. Kenning said she has considered taking her own life to be with her mother again.
“You not only murdered my mom, you murdered a piece of me,” Kenning told McDaniel, who was seated at the defense table directly in front of her.
McDaniel looked severely shaken as Kenning made some of her points. Others in the courtroom were audibly sniffling.
“Multiply it by five,” Kenning said in a reference to her children aged 11, 9, 7, 6 and 3.
“I hope and pray you get the absolute maximum sentence the judge and give you,” Kenning said as she glanced sideways at Judge Rider seated to her left.
McDaniel definitely shaken drank water from a bottle.
Then, Judge Rider asked defense attorney Jeff Erickson if he had any witnesses to call and he confirmed he did not.
Crawford County District Attorney Tim Baxter was recognized by the judge to present his statement on sentencing.
Baxter called the case against McDaniel the most “heinous personal type of crime.” Baxter acknowledged the statements made by Linda Kline’s family spoke directly to the nature of the crime they had been forced to live through.
“Anything I say will just be from a suit sitting at the table,” the DA said.
Baxter faulted McDaniel for blaming others over the course of his incarceration and the trial.
“The defendant blames the attorney,” Baxter said. “He calls the cops dirty and says how racist we were.
“Jimmy is very likable and he was very open with the agent (conducting the interview for the PSI), as long as he controlled the conversation,” Baxter said.
The DA cited comments made by Linda’s mother as getting to the heart of the issue.
In the PSI, Colleen said McDaniel “didn’t truly love her (daughter). It was more like ownership.” Baxter agreed with that statement.
The district attorney went on to request the court sentence Jimmy McDaniel to serve 40 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision. Baxter stated that McDaniel should get 449 days of credit toward the sentence for time already served in jail awaiting trail.
Then, it was defense attorney Jeff Erickson’s chance to make a statement.
“Mr. McDaniel has asked that I not make a sentence recommendation,” Erickson said.
The attorney took issue with the district attorney’s assertion that punishment was the only factor that should be considered in determining McDaniel’s sentence.
“This is a court of law,” Erickson pointed out. “Analysis must be made through the prism of law. Linda Kline’s perspective was put forward. Mr. McDaniel did not appear from a vacuum. He has a past.”
The attorney pointed out the PSI could not find a record of violence in the defendant’s past. The risk of committing a crime was low. He cited several other favorable conclusions from the report and said they should be considered in sentencing the defendant.
The attorney said testimony by the family was distorted though “the prism of emotion.”
“The court needs to be fair to Mr. McDaniel as well,” Erickson said.
The attorney went on to reference other favorable reports of McDaniel from the report, as well as a call to his wife in Georgia who said he had never been violent toward her in their many years of marriage.
“Mr. McDaniel is a human being and the law requires that all the sentencing factors should be considered,” Erickson said.
The judge recognized Jimmy McDaniel to make a statement on his behalf if he so chose. Like Linda Kline’s family members, McDaniel chose to make his statement from the witness stand. However, unlike the others he stood throughout his hour-long statement.
McDaniel began with an apology to Linda Kline’s mother for her loss. However, he did not admit his role in that loss.
“First of all, Mrs. Munz I apologize sincerely…. I lost my mother and sister,” McDaniel said. “I apologize from my heart because I know how it feels and there’s nothing to make you feel better about it.”
McDaniel told the court that he was from asmall town in North Carolina. He referred to himself as an “old country boy.”
McDaniel described the poverty he and his family experienced in the rural south, as well as his efforts to work on a relative’s farm and at a barbershop and make money. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Navy and served eight years.
McDaniel said he was married for 24 years and had three children and two were in college.
After being married, he worked at the airport in Atlanta, but eventually his marriage “fell apart,” according to McDaniel.
After leaving his wife, he took up over-the-road trucking, which is where he met Linda Kline, a fellow truck driver for Swift Trucking.
McDaniel then gave his version of the events that transpired between Kline and himself, during the time they lived together in Prairie du Chien.
McDaniel returned to Georgia in August to see his daughter off to college. Through communications with Kline expressing their mutual love, he returned to be with her on October 1, 2016. However, they were soon arguing again, according to McDaniel. These arguments included his objections to the way she used the prescribed oxycodone she took for pain in combination with alcohol.
McDaniel stuck to his story that after they returned to the house on Velvet Lane on October 5, he did not know where Linda was until he found her later in the yard.
McDaniel also addressed the points about racism and improper actions taken by the police that the district attorney brought up in his statement.
It was normal for young men held in the Crawford County Jail talked about white power, according to McDaniel. He alleged that deputies working in the jail asked other inmates if they wanted to be in jail with a black man.
“The jury came from Prairie du Chien,” McDaniel said. “I never experienced anything like that, not in the Navy…not driving,” McDaniel said. “(I was called) a nigger by a juror you had to dismiss. Yes, I talked about racism because it was there.”
McDaniel also took issue with his treatment by the sheriff’s department. He said sheriff’s deputy Mezera had lied when he said McDaniel had prevented him from talking to Linda Kline during a welfare check.
The defendant also faulted the investigation of the crime by investigator Ryan Fradette and others. He said no DNA evidence was ever gathered that linked him to committing a crime.
McDaniel acknowledged the work of public defender Jeff Erickson, but said the public defender did not have enough resources to mount a solid defense.
McDaniel said his perceived dislike of Linda’s brother Dennis and her mother was the result of a conversation he had with Linda and her sister Michelle about “how they grew up.”
“I didn’t take Linda’s life,” McDaniel said. “I could lie and take responsibility, but that wouldn’t be fair to you or me. Juries don’t always get it right. This is the hand I’ve been dealt and I have to deal with it.”
McDaniel ended his hour-long statement by quoting text messaging with Linda in late September describing the love she felt for him and her excitement at his return.
Finished with the “love messages from Linda,” McDaniel made a final statement.
“I want to admit it, but it’s not the truth,” McDaniel said. “I’m fine with what’s going to happen to me.”
A loud sobbing erupted in the courtroom.
“Again, I apologize for your loss,” McDaniel said.
In reviewing the factors in sentencing, Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Lynn Rider acknowledged the PSI report and other evidence that was favorable toward McDaniel, like not reoffending and not being violent.
“He was respectful in court,” Rider acknowledged. “He likes to talk a lot, but that’s his right.”
Rider addressed the argument of racism. She acknowledged that McDaniel was indeed the only person of color in the courtroom. The judge agreed the jury was not diverse, but pointed out that was the result of the county not having the population to create diversity on the jury.
Rider also addressed the juror, who was removed for making a racial slur against the defendant. She said when the juror who heard the remark brought the matter to the attention of the court; the juror who made the remark was removed from the jury.
Rider told McDaniel she did not see anything in the trial where “your race played arole.”
Rider said that she could not comment on anything that was said in the jail, because she had no knowledge of that situation.
The judge took issue with the notion that the public defender did not have enough resources to mount a solid defense. That expert witness from the west coast would be hard for a private attorney to access, she noted.
The judge said the death was not from suicide, but from blunt force trauma. She told McDaniel that version of events that he gave “wasn’t credible.”
The judge also dismissed the importance of the lack of DNA evidence was not a major point in the case.
“Again it’s a tiny piece, it’s not like the whole case was screwed up,” Rider said.
“You’re putting the blame everywhere but yourself,” Rider said. “Frankly, we’ll never know what happened…”
The judge did say that alcohol or other drugs may have been more involved than what was stated in court and they may have played a larger role in the incident.
After considering the sentencing factors and explaining her reasoning, Crawford County Judge Lynn Rider sentenced Jimmy D. McDaniel to serve 30 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision on the first-degree reckless homicide charge-a Class B Felony. She also imposed two years in prison and three years of extended supervision on the suffocation and strangulation charge-a Class H Felony, to run concurrently the the homicide sentence.