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New trial starts for woman accused of killing landlord

The Holland Sentinel • Sep 20, 2018 at 11:00 AM

GRAND RAPIDS — It’s been nearly 11 years since the body of a Grand Rapids businesswoman was found in a wooded area in Grand Haven Township.

The retrial of the woman accused of murdering 60-year-old Janna Kelly began this week after the 2015 conviction was overturned by the state Court of Appeals.

Robin Root, also a Grand Rapids resident, faces open murder charges for the 2007 death of Kelly, who went missing from her home in December 2007. Her body was found by a property surveyor three months later in Grand Haven Township.

In June 2014, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit, along with investigators from the Grand Rapids Police Department, took a “more intense review” of the case and conducted new interviews with those surrounding the case, said Capt. Mark Bennett of the Sheriff’s Office.

“Through the years, the Sheriff’s Office detective unit and investigators with the GRPD have talked to many individuals and have run down numerous tips and leads,” Bennett said in a 2015 news release.

The Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office was also involved in the investigation, which led them to Root. Kelly had evicted Root from a duplex she owned and was owed back rent.

The case went unsolved until police tested Root’s DNA in late 2014 and determined it was her blood found on Kelly’s car and jacket.

Root confessed to accidentally killing Kelly and placing her in the trunk of her car. Assistant Ottawa County Prosecutor Lee Fisher told a jury in 2015 he believed Root strangled Kelly in her Grand Rapids home and then dumped and burned the body in an Ottawa County field.

In 2015, Root was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Now 54, Root successfully appealed on the basis that statements she made to police in 2015 should have been suppressed because she wasn’t informed of her Miranda rights, MLive reported in April. She was granted a new trial in 2017 and declined to plead to second-degree murder in April in exchange for a sentence of 20-30 years in prison.

The retrial, which began Tuesday in 61st District Court in Grand Rapids, will now not include Root’s confession. Part of the day’s testimony, as reported by WOOD-TV, included a neighbor saying he witnessed Root and Kelly arguing over Root owing Kelly $2,900, that Root’s blood was found on the door handle of Kelly’s car, and cellphone tower records showing phones of the victim and defendant moving at the same time between Grand Rapids and Grand Haven Township where Root’s body was found three months later.

Root faces up to life in prison if convicted again of first-degree murder.

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