By Philip Jankowski
Fort Hood Herald
BELTON - After two weeks of testimony, a jury took less than three hours to convict two Fort Hood soldiers and a Kentucky woman of capital murder in connection to the October 2008 murder of Staff Sgt. Ryan Michael Sullivan.
Members of Sullivan's family cried softly and held hands as the verdict was read Friday afternoon in Judge Martha Trudo's 264th District Court. After each juror showed that they had unanimously agreed to convict Cpl. John Anthony Valdez Jr., Pfc. Kyle James Moesch and Kathyrn Nellie Briggs by a show of hands, Trudo immediately sentenced the three to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Briggs and Valdez showed little emotion while being handcuffed and led back to their cells in Bell County Jail. Moesch signaled to family members present as a deputy from the Bell County Sheriff's Department handcuffed him.
The verdict ended a nine-day trial featuring the testimony of nearly 40 witnesses and admission of 370 pieces of evidence. Though the totality of it all was complicated, Assistant District Attorney Murff Bledsoe told the jury during closing arguments that the vast amount of evidence only pointed to one conclusion; that Sullivan's death was a conspiracy hatched by Briggs to get a $100,000 life insurance payout.
Briggs first came into contact with Sullivan chatting on the Internet 2005 while stationed in Germany. She told Sullivan her name was Marisa Miller and she claimed to be a famous swimsuit model featured in several commercials and Sports Illustrated.
After extensive photo and chat conversations, Briggs resolved to meet Sullivan face-to-face while he was on leave in his home town in Grand Rapids, Mich. But when the day came for them to meet, she was no where to be found. She later told Sullivan her appearance had changed drastically.
Sullivan's mother Dennah Sullivan relayed most of the details about their early relationship in testimony. She told the court Briggs had said she had been very ill. Vertebrae were removed from her spine, causing her to be three inches shorter and during recovery she had gained more than 100 pounds.
Briggs also said she no longer wished to be referred to as Marisa Miller. It was a stage name she said, and she'd rather be referred to by her real name.
During another stint of leave, Sullivan's mother told the court she was immediately suspicious when she met Briggs for the first time. The woman who had told her son she was a swimsuit model was "morbidly obese," Dennah Sullivan testified.
But their suspicions went unanswered.
Sullivan's mother said the family did not press the issue because Sullivan was preparing to deploy to Iraq soon. There was no need to cause conflict so close to his departure to a war zone.
Sullivan was deployed to Iraq for 15 months, a combat assignment that lasted from late 2006 until early 2008. While there, he became "battle buddies" with two medics attached to the 1st Cavalry Division's Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment: Moesch and Valdez.
But at some point, their relationships with Sullivan turned sour.
Sullivan returned to Fort Hood in January, 2008. He bought a black Chevrolet Impala SS that became his prized possession.
Briggs and Sullivan moved into an apartment in the 3400 block of Girard Court. During the summer, their relationship frayed.
Briggs gradually moved into an apartment with two friends she had made in Austin. It was then that Briggs revealed Sullivan's death would entitle her to a $100,000 share of his group life insurance plan.
The testimony of Cpl. Jeremy Jacobs became a pivotal part of the trial when he told the court Valdez had approached Moesch and him about a contract out on Sullivan's life. Valdez indicated he intended to carry it out, and was seeking the help of Moesch and Jacobs to dispose of the body.
"There is going to be a hit on Ryan Sullivan and I'm going to carry it out," Valdez told the two.
"He stepped on the wrong guys' toes," Jacobs recalled Valdez saying. Their cut would be $2,000 each.
Jacobs never fully believed him. He thought it was a joke or Valdez blowing off steam. Others had seen Sullivan and Valdez get into a heated discussion during a trip to Sixth Street, but no one ever witnessed the two physically fight.
He testified he still believed Valdez was not serious even after accompanying him to a local gun store in search of a stun gun or Taser he could purchase for the expressed purpose of incapacitating Sullivan. And again during pre-deployment training at Fort Polk, La., Valdez spoke of killing Sullivan after incapacitating him with chemicals.
Sullivan died from at least 34 stab wounds in his living room. He was in a pool of his own blood for three days before police discovered him. Suspicions had arisen on post after he failed to make a 6:30 a.m. roll call on post. His absence eventually led soldiers to call Killeen police.
After finding the body, police had no solid leads until they received an anonymous phone call Nov. 11 from someone claiming to have information about the murder. After questioning Alpha Company soldiers, police determined Jeremy Jacobs had placed the call.
Jacobs and Moesch gave statements to police on Nov. 19. Moesch was arrested the following day. Police found a bank envelope containing $4,400 in his motel room.
Moesch later told police he agreed to help Valdez. He was first arrested on a charge of tampering with evidence. Later a grand jury indicted Valdez and Moesch on capital murder charges.
But the investigation was not closed yet. Sullivan's family had advised police to keep looking into Briggs. She behaved strangely and suspicious when Sullivan's siblings came to Killeen shortly after his death to settle his household.
Ben Sullivan testified Briggs appeared to grieve when they first met her. He recalled her appearing gregarious and nonchalant while Sullivan's friends and family divided up his possessions at his home.
Sullivan the soldier
Throughout every facet of the trial, Sullivan was portrayed as a model soldier. He was regarded as the top squad leader in his battalion.
During his 15-month rotation in Iraq, he earned the Combat Infantryman Badge.
During closing remarks, prosecuting attorney Murff Bledsoe told the court it was a tragedy to lose a man who was not only a son and brother, but an American hero.
Valdez' counsel Robert "Bucky" Harris said Sullivan's death reflects the unfairness of life.
"This is the inequity of life," Harris told the jury. "That he could survive 15 months in combat and then die in his apartment. In other words, he climbed to the top of the mountain, and on his way down he tripped over a rock and died."
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.