GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A jury has found a woman guilty of the 2007 murder of a Grand Rapids businesswoman for a second time.
The jury came to its verdict around 5 p.m. after about five hours of deliberations Friday.
Robin Root was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of her landlord Janna Kelly three years ago, but an appeals court threw that conviction out. The second trial began after Root rejected a plea deal from prosecutors.
On Friday, Root was found guilty on a charge of second-degree murder. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 17.
Kelly went missing on Dec. 4, 2007. Her body was discovered three months later, but it took another seven years before charges were filed against Root.
The second trial began Tuesday, where the jury briefly heard from a neighbor and friend who said he saw a volatile argument between Kelly and Root shortly before Kelly’s disappearance. Root apparently owed Kelly money.
In 2015, a Kent County jury found Robin Root guilty of first-degree murder which meant life in prison with no chance of parole. On Friday, a different jury found Root guilty of second-degree murder which means the 56-year-old could be paroled someday.
But while it was the same facts, the new jury did not hear all the things a jury three years ago heard, and that could have made the difference.
“I am disappointed the first-degree murder conviction on their behalf, not for myself, but for them. I think that was important for them,” said Ottawa County Prosecutor Lee Fisher after the verdict.
The Ottawa County prosecutor handled the prosecution because Ottawa County investigated the case for several years.
It was a verdict that disappointed the family of Kelly, who has had to wait eight years for this case to be closed.
After leaving the courtroom, Kelly’s daughter Isola said she was too upset to go on camera, but she did not want to see her mother’s killer ever get out of prison.
This jury heard how Root pushed down Kelly after an argument about $2,900 that the defendant owed the victim.
She put duct tape around her hands, and mouth and put Kelly in a car overnight where she likely died.
Root then drove the body out to Ottawa County where she dumped it in a field where it was left for three months exposed to the elements before a surveyor stumbled across it.
But after an appeals court decided that a large chunk of Root’s December 2014 confession should be thrown out after police ignored her request for an attorney, this jury decided on the lesser charge of second-degree murder which carries the possibility of parole.
“I don’t see how that couldn’t have affected the case, we lost about an hour-and-a-half to two-hours’ worth of the defendant’s confession,” Fisher said.
In 2015, the jury heard Root say that she put duct tape on Kelly’s mouth to “shut her up if she came to.”
That first jury also heard Root say that she left Kelly in a car trunk overnight as temperatures dropped to 19 degrees and then stripped her down before taking her to a field in Ottawa County where she set the body on fire.
In 2015, the jury heard this justification.
“So yeah, it was more of that and just the fact that I thought, well, what if wild animals came up to her? Maybe they wouldn’t if, you know, if I did that?” Root said in the confession.
“(It) really left out a lot of very important facts that the jury got to consider last time in the first-degree murder conviction,” Fisher said.
Next is sentencing on Oct. 17 which will be determined by Judge Joseph Rossi with a maximum of life but a minimum that could be as low as 25 years.
“We will certainly be arguing for higher than that minimum as the low end of her sentence just based on the horrific facts of this case, Fisher said.
The daughter of Janna Kelly will have a chance to give a statement before sentencing and has indicated she will do so.