Kentucky man makes court appearance in murder of Diné
By Krista Allen
Special to the Times
The Burlington, Kentucky, man accused of killing a 26-year-old Diné woman appeared in a striped prison jumpsuit and in shackles during a preliminary hearing at a Boone County courthouse Friday morning. Now, this case will go before a grand jury.
An arraignment hearing for James is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 21, 2019 at the Kenton County Circuit Court in Covington, Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Court of Justice.
Jesse A. James, 32, on Monday repeatedly said “not guilty” as a judge read charges against him inside a courtroom at the Boone County Justice Center, where he appeared without an attorney, according to WCPO Cincinnati.
Police say James confessed to killing Amanda Dakota Webster, a Na’ni’á Hasání native and a mother of three boys ranging in age from 3 months to 10 years old, Dec. 1 inside a hotel room at Home2 Suites at 7570 Woodspoint Dr. in Florence, Kentucky.
James was arrested at Rave Cinemas inside Florence Mall Saturday after movie-theater employees called police because a man at the cinema was acting paranoid and strangely.
The man gave police officers two fake names before they determined that it was James and then arrested him for false identifying information and for identity theft.
Under police questioning at the city police department, police say James admitted to stabbing and killing Webster inside his hotel room at Home2 Suites, where she, along with her best friend and sister Keevana Dan from Leupp, Arizona, was staying while working for GE Power in Erlanger, about 4.4 miles away.
James is charged with murder and tampering with physical evidence, according to Florence police.
James’s aunt, Mildred Scherder, told police that her nephew has suffered from mental health issues for years. She told reporters Monday that her family has struggled to get him help for his paranoid schizophrenia.
Police responded to Home2 Suites at 11:51 a.m. Saturday after housekeeping found an unresponsive woman inside James’s room. Officers said the woman, later identified as Webster, was deceased.
A detective who on Friday took the stand at the preliminary hearing revealed that Webster was found with multiple wounds to her neck and sides, according to WCPO. A knife and another possible weapon were recovered at the scene, said the detective.
Members of the American Indian Movement Chapter of Indiana and Kentucky, a Native American advocacy group, were inside the courtroom on behalf of Webster’s family and the community of Na’ni’á Hasání, saying hate crime charges should also be filed against James.
“We’re going to wait for the grand jury’s indictments to come back and then we’re going to contact the commonwealth attorney and Boone County,” said Lance Soto, co-chairman of the advocacy group, “and then we’re going to contact the state attorney’s office … and we’re going to push for the death penalty. And if possible, hate crime.”
Soto, a Cocopah Native originally from Somerton, Arizona, told the Navajo Times Friday afternoon that 12 individuals with the advocacy group gathered outside the courthouse this morning (Dec. 7) and then walked inside with signs reading, “Murder & Hate Crime Charges 4 Jesse James. Justice for Amanda Webster.”
“We were able to legally hold those up,” Soto said in a telephone interview. “So, our side of the courtroom, everybody was holding up a piece of paper. (James) entered (the courtroom) and he was handcuffed to a belt. He was brought in under heavy police protection.”
He continued, saying, “The police were everywhere. They were next to us and they were next to him. We were able to see him, and he looks worse in person.”
Melinda Pennell, a member of the group, said she thinks James saw Webster as an easy target the morning of the incident.
“I want to put him away,” she told WCPO. “I want him to pay for what he did.”
Webster, who was born Christmas Eve in 1991, was remembered at a candlelight vigil Wednesday night in Cameron, where her friends and dozens of community members showed up to support Webster’s family. During the vigil, Dan played one of Webster’s favorite songs from the musical film “A Star Is Born.”
With tears running down their faces, people held candles to remember a young, outgoing Diné woman who provided for her family.
“She was really a good person,” said Dan, who traveled with Webster from state to state working in the mechanical construction industry since 2014. “She was independent and funny. She basically did everything she could to provide for her children. She was a fighter.”
Webster was buried at the Citizens Cemetery in Flagstaff this morning, followed by a reception at the Nazarene Church in Na’ni’á Hasání. Dan had started a GoFundMe campaign Dec. 2 to help with transferring Webster’s body from Kentucky to Arizona. A total of $15,887 had been raised of a $5,000 goal as of 3 p.m. today.
The remaining funds will help ease the financial burden of Webster’s family.
To pay their respects and to raise awareness of missing and murdered Native women and girls, some friends and members of Webster’s family held up signs on Route 66 after Webster was laid to rest.
Soto says rallies for justice and a candlelight vigil are now in the works in Kentucky. But the group has to get the OK from Webster’s family, said Soto.
“We had just concentrated on getting everybody to the courthouse today,” Soto said. “We actually do plan on doing something, but it has to be a group discussion. We want to clear it with the family and the community of Cameron.”
Soto says the advocacy group will be at every single hearing from here on out, even if they have to go to the prosecutor’s office to protest to make sure the murder and the hate crime charges follow through.
“Not only this (AIM) chapter, but the entire Native community here in this area will be joining us 100 percent,” Soto added. “This is just the beginning.”
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own,” Vice President Jonathan Nez said in a statement to the Times. “Amanda Webster was a daughter, granddaughter, mother, sister and (a) friend to many. Our prayers are with the family and we ask for privacy as the family grieves for their loved one.”
Nez added that he has asked the criminal justice system to look into this matter so that healing will begin.
“We are working with the Navajo Nation Missing Persons Group … so that all of our people are kept safe,” Nez said. “This sad loss of Amanda also comes at a time when the Violence Against Women Act is set to lapse. We need Congress to act quickly to reauthorize it on a long-term basis.”
Arizona Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai (D-Cameron), among a list of other state representatives, also said the country failed Webster with the nightmare of hardship and violence.
“But we cannot fail to act for her three children as they begin their journey of life motherless,” she said. “Public safety, mental healthcare, social justice and political leadership are all equally up for scrutiny, accountability and change.”
Webster was of the Kiyaa’áanii and the Tódích’íi’nii clans, according to Peshlakai.