Leigha Ackerson is accused of murdering Catherine Kelley at her home near Edwards.
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EAGLE – Leigha Ackerson’s lawyers suspended her case on Friday in her first degree murder trial and ended week two with a string of witnesses continuing to testify about her troubled upbringing and how her husband Jacob White isolated and abused her.
Joel Ackerson said his younger sister Leigha Ackerson and White stayed at his Carlisle, Pennsylvania apartment in 2017 and left without a word in January 2018. A few weeks later, they were both arrested for the murder of Catherine Kelley, who was found near her home near Edwards.
Joel Ackerson described White as “out”. White was very protective of Leigha Ackerson, did most things for her and always watched her, he said. White added numerous videos to him on the conspiracy theory, trying to prove to him that the end of the world was approaching.
“I kind of told him that I didn’t see things that way … The friendliness and politeness quickly waned from there,” Joel Ackerson told the jury.
Joel Ackerson remembered seeing his previously departing sister cautiously and calmly now and glancing at White before answering any questions. A few months after her arrival, Leigha Ackerson’s hair was cut and “almost completely shaved”.
Joel Ackerson said White told him Leigha had cancer or a tumor and that she was staying in a guest room in the apartment with no furniture until September. She would seldom or never leave this room and the door was kept closed, he said.
Joel Ackerson said he bought their groceries and didn’t charge them rent.
“It was difficult and I thought she was showing symptoms, she was paler, noticeably thinner, quieter, tired,” said Joel Ackerson. “Those were all symptoms of cancer or a tumor … He had told me that they had gone to all the doctors in Colorado and there was no other way to help her. So I thought I would do my best to help my sister. “
Joel Ackerson said he was scared of White and remembered the time he tried to go into the room to check on his sister.
“I had told (White) that the very dynamic in which she is in the room and he is outside cannot go on,” Joel Ackerson told the jury. “He was done with the conversation. He went back into the room. I followed him back. He tried to close the door behind him. I put my hand on the door and he attacked me. He was pushing me and before I knew it I was about three feet back on the floor with his elbows attached to my chest and neck … I’d never been in a situation like this before. “
Joel Ackerson said he went to work the next morning. After that, his sister and White were gone. “No goodbye, they just disappeared,” he said.
Several mysterious packages later arrived at his apartment addressed to “Llewyn Kent”. Leigha Ackerson has testified that the name is one of several personalities White has of his own.
“I wish I could have taken her with me.”
Ackerson’s lawyers also called Victoria Van Allen, a friend of the family who was once engaged to Ackerson’s father, who she said was struggling with alcoholism. Van Allen recalled two interactions with Ackerson and White when they stayed with her in California in the spring of 2015 and a year later, worried about Ackerson and fearful of White on that second visit.
“She looked very sick, she looked anorexic, her eyes were sunken and she wore long sleeves even though it was hot,” Van Allen said, noting that White and Ackerson are not staying in their house or eating their food would visit, instead stay in a tent in the yard.
The only interaction Van Allen had with Ackerson on the second visit was when White left the house. She once tried to speak to Ackerson about her concerns while White was away.
“We saw Jacob White’s car pull up and she raced. She was already white as a sheet, but she got very scared and upset and ran back outside to her tent … She looked me in the eyes for a moment and all I saw was pain and fear. “
Van Allen remembered another time when Ackerson and White were home with her and Ackerson’s father. She said she saw White pull Ackerson’s arm to sit on the sofa.
“He looked at me like he hated me, absolute hate. Then he said, “You are angry,” Van Allen testified.
“I was very scared, I objected to what he said. I said I’m not angry, I’m a good person, I gave you food, shelter, helped you, what did I do to you? He said, “You are a witch.” Leigha turned into a mouse, she looked down, and her father wouldn’t even take a stand. I was very afraid. Jacob got up. Even though he’s not a great person, I felt threatened. I ran into my bedroom and grabbed my purse and keys and never came back. I ran out the front door. I felt so bad that I left Leigha there. I wish I could have taken her with me. But I never saw her again, never heard from her, ”Van Allen said, and burst into tears at several points on her testimony.
Van Allen said she stayed away from her home for a month. During this time, Ackerson’s father moved out.
Ackerson’s defense lawyers also named Victoria Lutz, a domestic violence expert. Lutz spoke about domestic violence and abuse in general, how abusive relationships develop and persist, and why abused women can find it difficult to leave those relationships, find escape routes, or seek help.
Prosecutors expect to call several refuting witnesses on Monday. After that, the lawyers will end the process with final arguments. A jury will then determine Leigha Ackerson’s future for her alleged involvement in the Kelley assassination. Prosecutors have charged 27-year-old Ackerson with first degree murder, burglary, aggravated robbery, crime murder, manipulation of evidence and conspiracy to commit murder, burglary and robbery. She faces life in prison.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at [email protected]