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A Bar Harbor man accused of raping and killing a childhood friend last year went back to her mother’s house after the alleged murder to retrieve his cellphone and wallet and told the victim’s mother he would help find her missing daughter, a prosecutor told a jury Tuesday morning.
A prosecutor from the state attorney general’s office and a defense attorney representing Jalique Keene each made opening statements Tuesday morning in Keene’s murder trial in Ellsworth. Keene, 22, is charged with raping and murdering Mikaela Conley, 19, on the grounds of Conners Emerson elementary school in Bar Harbor in the early morning hours of June 1, 2018.
Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam told the jury of nine women and six men, including three alternates, that Conley picked up Keene and two other people from Boston’s Logan International Airport on May 31, 2018, and then drove them back to Bar Harbor. Elam emphasized to the jury that Conley did not know she would be raped, bludgeoned and killed within the next 18 hours.
Elam described how, around 7 a.m. the next day, a security camera at the school recorded Keene carrying Conley’s seemingly lifeless body across a portion of the school grounds, with her toes dragging across the ground as he held her over his back by her arms. The following day, Conley’s body was found in a thick clump of vegetation on a wooded slope below the school grounds, a few feet away from a busy intersection where Route 3 connects with West Street.
“She didn’t know” her life soon would end in an act of violence that would give her multiple hemorrhages inside her skull and visible internal injuries from being raped, Elam said. She added that Keene’s DNA was found under Conley’s fingernails and in her genitalia after police found and examined her body.
In a separate opening statement to the jury, Dawn Corbett, who is representing Keene along with co-defense attorney Jeffrey Toothaker, said that prosecutors have circumstantial evidence against Keene but cannot prove he killed Conley.
There could have been someone else on the school grounds who managed to avoid being recorded by security cameras, Corbett said. Items found on the playground, including cigarette butts and an empty booze bottle, never were tested by police in an attempt to identify other suspects, she said.
“They don’t have any proof about how [Conley was fatally injured] or who was with her” when she died, Corbett said. “Circumstantial evidence doesn’t lead to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It leads to guessing.”
Elam, giving her opening statement before Corbett, told the jury how Conley and Keene, who had known each other since grade school, went to Conley’s mother’s house on Eden Street — directly across the street from the elementary school — when they arrived in Bar Harbor around 1 a.m. Conley and Keene left, and her mother never saw or heard from her again, Elam said.
Keene went back to the house the next morning and said he left his cell phone there the night before. When Conley’s mother went up to her daughter’s room to retrieve it, she realized that Conley wasn’t there. When she asked Keene where her daughter was, he told Conley’s mother he had last seen her on the school grounds around 3:30 a.m.
Later that morning, staff at the school contacted Conley’s mother to tell her they found Conley’s cellphone on the school’s playground. Later that morning, they also found Conley’s shoes outside the school. After a search began in earnest, with Conley’s friends and police involved, Keene continued to tell people he last saw her at the playground.
“The defendant even participated” in the search,” Elam said. “He pretended to look for Mikaela Conley when he already knew where her dead body lay.”
After the attorneys made their opening statements, the jury heard from the first witness in the case.
A man working as a flagger for work crews who were rebuilding the intersection of Route 3 and West Street last summer testified that the morning Conley vanished, he heard rustling and briefly saw a clothed human leg sticking out of vegetation near the intersection.
He told the jury that he could see and hear children playing in the school playground at the top of the slope, and assumed one of them was in the bushes down by the road. He said that when he went over and yelled toward the bushes, the rustling stopped and he went back to work.
If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.