So much for the whodunit.
In the course of her first-degree murder trial this week, Monique Lee’s defense has been questioning whether prosecutors could prove that Lee killed her landlord, Karen Jenkins, a college instructor and businesswoman.
However, one person didn’t question who did the killing: Lee herself.
In a December 2010 phone call from jail — played by prosecutors Thursday afternoon — Lee told her sister that she killed Jenkins.
“I admit, I did it,” she said at one point.
At another, she blubbered, through her tears, how she did it.
Pressing Lee about why she was charged with first-degree murder, sister DeShawndra Boatman asked Lee whether she shot or stabbed Jenkins, 48.
Lee didn’t respond.
“C’mon, Monique, just tell me,” Boatman said. “I won’t tell nobody. I won’t tell mom. ... Did you drug her?”
“I didn’t drug her,” Lee said, sniffling. “I choked ... I strangled her. I strangled her, Shawndra.”
Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley has left little unturned as he has questioned whether someone else — namely Lee’s brother, Gary Lee — could have killed Jenkins.
But that part of the defense was undermined Thursday as his own client’s words reverberated through the courtroom.
In addition to the jailhouse phone calls, prosecutors say, Lee has made admissions to both of the psychiatrists who have evaluated her.
And her brother Gary Lee is expected to testify Friday that he helped Monique Lee after she became upset that she was being evicted.
All of those things may mean the defense soon will turn to the second prong of their strategy: their argument that Lee was insane at the time of the killing.
The three phone calls — made two months after Jenkins was found dead — show a desperate woman. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine and Chief Deputy Brenda Beadle said it’s a woman covering her tracks — and trying to deflect blame for strangling Lee with a vacuum cleaner cord.
Riley, on the other hand, likely will point to some elements of the phone calls as signs that Lee wasn’t all there.
Throughout the phone calls, Lee seems consumed with her children — and with the consequences she might suffer.
In the second phone call that day, Lee adamantly denies acting alone — or out of anger for getting initial eviction papers.
“I admit, I did it,” she says. “It wasn’t based off of what everybody thinks it is. My kids was being threatened.”
By who? Boatman asked.
Lee refers to a mysterious man at a nearby body shop — and to a yellow truck parked in the neighborhood.
“All I know is his name is Black,” Lee said. “I would get phone calls, messages telling me what clothes I was wearing ... like they was watching me. I was being threatened. My brother was being threatened.”
Lee tells her sister that Jenkins’ body was moved by the unnamed man and his friends. Gary Lee is expected to testify he helped his sister hide the body.
“He kept threatening me,” she said. “He started telling me, ‘Do it or die. So I did it.’”
Authorities noted that Lee provides more details with each phone call. In the first phone call, Lee says she strangled Jenkins. In the second call, her sister asked what role their brother, Gary Lee, played.
“Gary watched,” Lee said. “He just stood there and watched. And he held her down.”
In the third phone call, she vents to Boatman about their little brother cooperating with police — and pinning the motive on the eviction.
“Gary throw all this (expletive) on me,” Lee says. “You mean to tell me, I been letting you live in my house and then you going to throw this (expletive) on me? ... This is my blood.”
Courtroom spectators were spellbound by the tapes. A few of Jenkins’ family members and friends dabbed away tears. One buried her head in her hands.
At one point, Lee’s mother left the courtroom in a huff. She shot a glare in her daughter’s direction before flinging open the courtroom doors.
Two jurors scribbled furiously as Lee made her admissions. Another closed his notebook and leaned back in his chair.
A female juror tried to stifle tears as Lee repeatedly asked about her 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
Lee: “Have they asked about me? ... I need to hear them.”
Boatman: “They’re fine. I just told ’em ‘Mom has to take a vacation.’”
Finally, Boatman — who now has custody of the children — puts the daughter on.
“Hi, baby. Hey, baby,” Lee says, her singsong voice muffled by tears. “You take care of your little brother, OK? I love you.”
“I love you too,” her daughter says.
Later, Lee asks about the life sentence she could face for murder.
“They probably are going to try to give you life,” Boatman says. “They might give you 20 years.”
“Well, 20 is a lot better than life,” Lee says. “As long as it’s not forever. As long as I can get out and see the kids.”
“If I could change this, Shawndra, I swear to God I would. I can’t stand being away from my babies.”
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