Jalique Keene (right) listens with his defense attorney, Jeffrey Toothaker, as a friend of murder victim Mikaela Conley addresses the Hancock County Superior Court during Keene’s sentencing hearing in September 2019. FILE PHOTO

Keene appeals his 2019 murder conviction

ELLSWORTH — The Bar Harbor man convicted last year of murder and gross sexual assault of a friend and classmate is appealing his conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Jalique Keene, 23, was found guilty in May 2019 of the 2018 murder of 19-year-old Mikaela Conley and sentenced in September to 58 years in prison.

In a brief hearing July 15 held by remote video conference, Keene’s attorney Lawrence Winger argued that the 2019 trial should not have been held in Hancock County, that the prosecution’s case relied on circumstantial evidence and “speculation” and that Keene’s sentence of 58 years for the two crimes was “pulled out of the air.”

Conley’s body was found in the woods in Bar Harbor June 2, 2018. She had spent the evening of May 31-June 1 with Keene. Footage from security cameras at Conners Emerson School show the two together several times in the overnight hours. The footage also shows him carrying her off the playground and, later, washing himself off at a spigot.

At Keene’s sentencing in September 2019, Assistant Attorney General Megan Elam argued that he should spend life in prison.

Elam cited Keene’s lack of remorse and the brutal nature of the crimes.

“This murder was committed with extreme and prolonged cruelty,” Elam said.

Keene wrote to The Ellsworth American from prison last month a lengthy statement arguing details of the case. In the letter, he does not say who he thinks beat and murdered Conley, but he says some evidence that was either overlooked or not admitted at the trial supports a conclusion that it wasn’t him.

He says the two had consensual sex, during which she “raked” his back with her fingernails, where his DNA was later found.

At the appeal hearing, Winger said there were three hours on the morning Conley’s body was found, from about 4-7 a.m., when Keene wasn’t seen anywhere near the crime scene. A person was seen around 7:45 in the area where the body was found, he said, arguing it wasn’t Keene because he was somewhere else at the time.

Orlando Warren, who had been working as a flagger in a construction zone near the school, testified for the prosecution that he saw someone in the bushes near the playground at 7:45 a.m. on June 1, defense attorney Dawn Corbett said at the trial.

“Where was Jalique at 7:45?” Corbett asked. “We know from Danielle [Conley’s mother] he was at her house getting his bags. The bags had been left in Conley’s car from their trip back to Bar Harbor from Boston where Conley had picked him up from the airport on May 31.

“We know he was plugged into the internet at her house at 7:44 a.m.”

State Police Corporal Christopher E. Smith, who found Conley’s body with the help of his police dog, testified that the body was “partially covered with vegetation and sticks and a black nylon bag.”

Conley died from strangulation and blunt force trauma. Graphic photos of her injuries were presented at trial.

Referring to sentencing precedent from other cases, Winger said at the appeal hearing that this case does not include the “viciousness” that characterizes those other cases.

“Having viewed the photographs of Mikaela’s body, I can’t agree with you there,” Justice Ellen Gorman said.

At the trial, a friend of both Keene and Conley reported Keene telling him, after Conley’s body was found, “My life is over.”

“‘My life is over’ doesn’t mean ‘I killed someone,’” Keene wrote in his letter. Referring to himself in the third person, he said, “It means that one of Keene’s best friends was dead. It means he knew Mikaela’s family and the people from his hometown would never forgive him, for giving her alcohol and then abandoning her.”

Before being adopted by a Bar Harbor family at age 8, Keene endured abuse by his biological father as well as a foster mother, clinical psychotherapist Dr. Geoffrey Thorpe testified at the trial. He said Keene may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The murder “occurred in a very, literally, insular community,” Acting Chief Justice Andrew Mead said of locating the trial in Hancock County where both Keene and Conley lived. “Should we have been concerned about the fact that this had to have been a cause célèbre?”

“No record supported either a presumption of prejudice or actual prejudice,” replied Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, who represented the prosecution at the 25-minute hearing before the Supreme Court. “The real test of prejudice is whether or not you can pick a jury.”

The investigation, trial and sentencing were all emotional for the Bar Harbor community and news of the appeal has brought back the painful memories.

At the packed sentencing hearing, Kiana Baranowski, best friend of Conley’s mother, Danielle Timoney, said, “Mikaela, we are standing here united in our voices, advocating for you.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.
Liz Graves

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