Mum's the Word
When the Scene spoke with Diane Sanders last Thursday, on the morning police arrested her daughter, Kelley Cannon, for murder, officers had only left her Green Hills home a few hours earlier. Sanders says police arrived in an unmarked car and knocked on the door of the home at about 8:30 a.m. to find her wearing a housecoat and Kelley in her pajamas.
Despite the morning's commotion—an event that Sanders describes as horrific—the mother, with her raspy tone and near-screeching voice, began to defend her daughter against charges that she strangled her estranged husband and stuffed him in the closet of their tony West Nashville home. But Sanders never portrays Kelley as a good, kind, loving person—the kinds of things you would hope your mother would say should you be charged with murder. And she absolutely never says that her daughter simply is incapable of killing another human being, instead explaining that Kelley "just got mixed up with the wrong man, I guess. I don't think she murdered him."
Kelley admitted to the Scene and police that she was inside the Cannon home the night of Jim's murder, but she says she quickly left the home with her three children when she called out to Jim and couldn't find him. Since then, she has been charged in the murder of her husband and is being held on $500,000 bond—an amount Sanders says the family cannot pay.
Now, Kelley's criminal attorney, Peter Strianse, says his client will "plead not guilty without a question" to the "dubious charge." But police say scientific analysis of evidence collected from the home implicates Kelley in the homicide.
Just exactly what that evidence is, however, is still unclear. The autopsy report of Jim's death has not been released, and police have disclosed few details about the crime scene.
But Sanders seems surprisingly privy to intimate details of the murder. "Physically, I know the details of the murder and everything," she says. "I can't divulge what I know." She says that Jim's body was stuffed into a closet in the room shared by his two sons, ages 9 and 7. "There was a chest of drawers knocked over that weighs about 300 pounds because it's solid wood against the door of the closet—like blocking the door so he couldn't get out," she says. It's a detail that two sources close to the case have also confirmed.
In her interview with the Scene, Kelley said that she went into the boys' room in her search for Jim the night of his death. Kelley said it was clear that Jim was staying in the bedroom because she saw both his briefcase and his glasses in there, but she never mentioned the chest of drawers blocking the closet. "There's no way a little 90-pound girl like her could've done all that was done to him in the manner in which he was killed. And knocked over a 300-pound chest and all that kind of stuff," Sanders says.
Sources close to the case say that Jim suffered a ligature strangulation with a chord or an object—not with anyone's hands—and that his face was beaten severely. Police would not confirm this or any other details about the homicide.
But Sanders continues on with her rapid-fire description of Jim's death, seemingly without a filter—or without a clue of how her statements may hurt her daughter's case. When she describes how she doesn't think her 90-pound daughter could have killed Jim, who weighed about 190 pounds, Sanders alludes to knowledge that Jim's body was drug across the floor. "Physically she couldn't have done it. I don't know how you drag a 190-pound man across the floor, you know, and put him in a closet—a dead weight. Dead weight."
As if to counter her own argument about how Kelley couldn't have possibly overpowered Jim, Sanders says police are looking into whether Kelley had an accomplice—a notion she then quickly decries, saying Kelley didn't have the money for a hired killer. "Well, she was out of [Jim's] house for two months, and she had no money except what he gave her," she says. "It's not like murder for hire. And she didn't have any affairs going on...illicit relationships, boyfriends, anything like that."
Sanders breeched the boyfriend topic without being asked, just as she brought up speculation that Kelley, the executrix of Jim's will, may have murdered her husband for the insurance money. With Jim as Kelley's sole source of income, Sanders says her daughter couldn't be the killer. "Why would you murder somebody when that's your source of income? It wouldn't be for the insurance or anything—that's stupid."
Several months before Jim's death, a judge awarded the successful attorney and businessman custody of the couple's three children because of what he described in divorce papers as Kelley's bizarre pattern of schizophrenic episodes and drug abuse. Since then, Jim had been paying for Kelley to live in apartments across the city, and most recently, at the Grove at Whitworth on Elmington Avenue, a short walk from the family home.
But Kelley was staying at her mother's nearby Green Hills home in the days leading up to her arrest. In the weeks following Jim's death, Sanders had plenty of time to observe Kelley, who she says has been a basket case. "She's just been like a zombie—absolutely changed. Can't think, can't eat, can't sleep. Her brain is just fried. She doesn't hardly even know where she is."
In her interview, Sanders often was more forthcoming about her daughter's flaws than Kelley was. While Kelley did not admit to having a drug problem, Sanders plainly says that Kelley did have issues with drugs that forced her into rehab at Cumberland Heights. "She started with popping the pills to ease her mental pain and stuff and got in trouble...," Sanders says, confirming the concerns Jim had outlined in his divorce complaint.
The mother adds that the mere fact that Kelley didn't flee after Jim's death proves her innocence. "I wouldn't be going to my apartment, sitting there and just waiting for someone to knock on the door. I'd be hiding out. No one could find me if it was me doing it."
She also points to Kelley's legal struggle to view Jim's remains as proof of her daughter's devotion. (Kelley lost a court battle to stop Jim's family from cremating his remains, but a judge allowed her an hour-and-a-half to view his body.) "If she killed him, why would she want to see his body?" Sanders says. "I don't believe I'd be wanting to see somebody I'd just killed. I mean, let's just look at the human nature side of this."
That's the rub though. Sanders never once speaks to Kelley's true nature.
No wonder, because according to a source close to the case, Sanders was set to testify against her own daughter in a court hearing on March 5, when Jim filed for custody of the children. According to the source, Sanders was prepared to testify that Kelley was not capable of caring for the children because of her drug use and mental health issues.
When the Scene asked attorney Hollins whether Sanders testified that day, he said the woman did not have to. Kelley's attorneys agreed to all of Jim's requests before the hearing, which Kelley did not show up for. Following Jim's death, a judge has awarded temporary custody of the couple's three children to Jim's sister.
The high-profile nature of the case certainly is not lost on Jim's family, a group who Hollins says has been expecting Kelley's arrest for a while now. "They didn't know when [Kelley would be arrested], and in a sense, they were relieved that the arrest did take place because they know that this criminal process is something that the whole family is going to have to deal with at some point," Hollins says. "And they're glad just to get the process started."
But Strianse is predictably upset—if not a bit shocked—at how quickly Kelley was charged in the homicide. "I'm just really disappointed that the police department, who had given me assurances that there was going to be no rush to judgment and that they were going to thoroughly investigate the case, and was pressured by the media and Mr. Cannon's family, does the exact opposite and runs out and charges her."
If anything, Sanders' anemic defense of her daughter won't do much to help Strianse's—or Kelley's—case. When speaking of the forensic evidence that police say implicates Kelley, Sanders questions how damning fingerprint evidence would be. Strianse agrees, saying it's predicable that Kelley's fingerprints would be all over the home. After all, she had lived there for years.
But Sanders goes a step further, with off-the-cuff speculation about whether the killer might have worn gloves. (Police only seized an empty carton of Virgina Slims, a pair of blue jeans and a dress that Kelley was wearing when she stopped by the family home the night of Jim's death.) "I don't know if whoever did it wore gloves or something. But she didn't have any gloves or anything of that nature," Sanders says. "Anyway, she's already been convicted in the media." She continues, "What's this—the O.J. Simpson case of Nashville?" n
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