ELLSWORTH — Bar Harbor murder defendant Jalique Keene had baked Christmas cookies with his alleged victim, Mikaela Conley’s, family in December of 2017, the dead woman’s mother testified Tuesday in Hancock County Superior Court.
A grand jury has indicted Keene, 22, on charges of murder and gross sexual assault in the June 1, 2018 slaying of Mikaela Conley, 19, also of Bar Harbor. He has pleaded not guilty.
Tuesday was the first day of his trial, which defense attorney Jeffrey Toothaker said he expected to last more than a week at Hancock County Superior Court. Justice Robert Murray is presiding.
Keene and Conley had grown up attending the same schools in Bar Harbor and were friends, said attorney Dawn Corbett, who is partnering with Toothaker on Keene’s defense.
Assistant Attorney General Megan Elam told a jury of nine women and three men in her opening arguments that Keene had participated in a search party for Mikaela after she was reported missing.
Elam is prosecuting the case with Assistant Attorney General John Alsop.
“When Mikaela left Bar Harbor that Thursday [May 31, 2018] she did not know she had less than 18 hours to live,” Elam said. Mikaela had gone to Boston that day to pick up friends, including Keene, from Logan International Airport.
“She did not know during the last hours of her life, Jalique Keene would beat her so severely she would suffer multiple hemorrhages inside her skull,” Elam said.
“She did not know Jalique Keene would strangle her with such force that it also contributed to her death,” the prosecutor said. “She did not know that Jalique Keene would sexually assault her with such violence that she would suffer visible internal injuries.”
Elam said police have a video from a security camera at the Conners Emerson School, near where Mikaela’s body was found on June 2, that shows Keene dragging the young woman’s “lifeless body” to a wooded area.
The defense introduced doubt about the state’s case during opening arguments.
“The state is asking you to look at facts that aren’t obvious and give it your best guess,” Corbett told the jury. “Circumstantial evidence leads you to guessing. There is a gap in time that the state can’t account for. There’s 3 or 4 hours the state can’t account for in this case.”
“Mr. Keene had a good life,” said Corbett. “He played American football in Serbia. He was married. He had lots of friends.”
More than eight people testified for the prosecution during the proceedings held at in Hancock County Superior Court.
Among those who testified Tuesday was Conley’s mother, Danielle Timoney of Bar Harbor.
“Jalique came to your house on a regular basis,” Elam asked.
“No, not until right before he went away,” Timoney said. Timoney was referring to Keene’s trip to Serbia in the winter of 2018 to play football.
“He actually would come over and visit my son Alex and say hi to me,” said Timoney. “He baked cookies with us for Christmas.”
Conley’s stepfather, Ernie Geiger of Ellsworth, testified about statements he said he overheard Keene make to others while friends and family as well as Mount Desert Island residents who didn’t know the young woman were out searching for her.
“He was telling us she had acted funny and had drank a lot,” said Geiger, referring to the night of May 31, after Conley picked up Keene from the airport.
Elam asked Geiger to describe Conley’s relationship with Keene.
“I knew he had an interest in her and she wasn’t interested in him, other than that, it was a friendship,” Geiger said.
State Police Corporal Christopher E. Smith testified about his police dog Winger’s track of Conley’s scent, which led to Winger discovering the young woman’s body in a wooded area at the school June 2.
“All the sudden he sat very slow and laid down—that’s his indication he located human odor,” said Smith.
“I literally stood right over Winger and focused my eyesight on the ground in front of Winger,” Smith said. “That’s when I noticed a small human hand and black hair, which was partially covered with vegetation and sticks and a black nylon bag.”
Two of the women who helped search for Conley, strangers to the young woman and her family, testified as well.
One of the women, Tracy Miller of Mount Desert, found Conley’s sweatpants while digging in a pile of leaves.
“Any pile of sticks and leaves I came upon I dug through with my hands,” Miller said.
“Why?” asked Elam.
“We looked for things that would help us find her,” said Miller. “I was willing to do what that took.”
“Why did you search for a girl you didn’t know?” the prosecutor asked.
“I have four children,” Miller said. “My daughter is around Mikaela’s age and if a kid is missing, I want to go help if I can.”
Miller testified that during the search, she spoke to Keene who told her about the night of May 31.
“He said he was hanging out in the playground with Mikaela,” Miller said. “She’d gotten angry and walked off. He said they were supposed to meet at the shore path at 4 a.m. and she never showed up.”
Corbett asked Miller if the police asked Miller for a sample of her DNA after she found the sweatpants. They did not, Miller said.
About two dozen of Conley’s friends and family members sat listening to the day of testimony, at times crying.
There were three people sitting in the defendant’s gallery.
The state’s prosecution is to continue Wednesday at Hancock County Superior Court.