Prosecutor: More should have been done to protect murder victim - WSMV Channel 4

Prosecutor: More should have been done to protect murder victim

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Lacy Kelley was murdered on Sept. 1. (WSMV) Lacy Kelley was murdered on Sept. 1. (WSMV)
COLUMBIA, TN (WSMV) -

Lacy Kelley was murdered on Sept. 1 in a violent kidnapping and knife attack in front of her two small children in Columbia.

Those who knew Kelley and were aware of her abusive relationship with her alleged killer are wondering if something could have been done to save her life.

Family members say the 20-year-old’s life revolved around her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

“She graduated.  She was trying to go to nursing school.  She wanted a better life for her kids and that’s what she was working on,” said Jennifer Cooper, Kelley’s aunt.

“She loved them with all her heart,” said Tonya Smith, Kelley’s aunt.

The history between the victim and her accused killer

Earlier this year, Kelley left her high school sweetheart and father of her children, Darnell Wiggins, and moved in with her father and stepmother in Pulaski.

On Aug. 14, as Kelley was dropping off the children with Wiggins, Columbia police were called to his house for an assault.

Court documents show Wiggins choked Kelley and ripped her shirt. He was charged with aggravated domestic assault and ordered to spend 12 hours in jail.

The next morning, Wiggins posted $3,000 bond and was issued a restraining order by Magistrate Kenneth Lovett.

Just three days later, on Aug. 18, police say Wiggins showed up at Kelley’s parents’ house.

Pulaski police responded and issued a warrant for Wiggins’ arrest for violating the restraining order.

The last day of Lacy’s life

Two weeks later, on Sept. 1, investigators say Wiggins texted Kelley telling her he was going to turn himself in, but he wanted to see his children before he went back to jail.

She agreed to meet him, a move domestic abuse victim advocate Chuck Killion says is common among victims.

“These girls feel like they deserve it, that they caused it, ‘he loves me,’” Killion said.

Kelley reached out to Killion asking for help days before meeting Wiggins at a local skating rink.

When she tried to leave, police say he chased her with his car, eventually running her off the road. That’s when police say Wiggins kidnapped Kelley and the children.

He drove them back to his house and allegedly began stabbing Kelley, who crawled to a neighbor’s house for help.

Kelley was stabbed 8 times in the chest and torso and died on the way to the hospital.

Wiggins was arrested later that night.

Responding Maury County Deputy Joel Willoughby was the last person to speak with Kelley before she died.

“She stated to me, ‘Don’t let him get me.’ I told her I wasn’t going to let anybody get her, that she was safe … She said, ‘I met him at the skating rink. He wanted me to go with him and I said no.’ And that was the last words that she said,” Willoughby said.

Could her murder have been prevented?

Now, as prosecutors fight for justice, there are major questions about whether enough was done to prevent Kelley’s murder.

Victim statements obtained by Channel 4 paint a deadly picture of the relationship between Kelley and Wiggins.

Hours after Wiggins was arrested for assaulting her on Aug. 14, Kelley told police officers about prior abuse.

When asked if Wiggins had ever threatened her with a weapon, threatened to kill her and if she thought he might try to kill her, Kelley answered yes to each question.

“It’s terrible when the victim is taking all the right steps. They’re calling the police, they’re having the charges filed, and they’re doing what we tell them to do,” said prosecutor Brent Cooper.

Cooper says a combination of factors, including a low bond amount and Wiggins evading police by fleeing the state, all led up to the murder.

Wiggins was already a convicted felon when he arrested for the assault, but his bond was set at just $3,000.

“Under aggravated domestic assault, that’s where we went wrong. $10K bond would have been minor, $25K bond … go sell some dope you’ll get a higher bond than beating the living daylights out of some girl,” Killion said.

Lovett said he set the bond amount based on the affidavit, which includes a short description of the alleged crime but says nothing about Kelley fearing for her life.

“The bond wasn’t set high enough, the police weren’t able to locate him. We have a victim here you said yourself did all the right things, asked for help, so it just sounds like there were failures on multiple levels here,” said Channel 4 reporter Kevin Trager to prosecutor Cooper.

“I guess that’s a fair statement. In an ideal world, you can predict human behavior. We’re not at that point yet,” he responded.

Killion said Kelley did everything she was supposed to do.

“She got her order of protection, she got her paperwork. Darnell got charged. She got killed,” Killion said.

What happens next?

So all of this begs the question: What needs to be done to fix the system? There is a judge and a sheriff right here in Tennessee who have implemented a new program to monitor domestic assault suspects after they bond out of jail and the results of that program are startling.

Channel 4 will have much more on that coming up in part two of this story, which airs Friday at 6 p.m.

If you are a victim of domestic violence and need help, contact Traci Cook with Center of Hope in Columbia at 931-381-8580.

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