Members of Michelle Kehoe’s family stared intently at the screen where Kehoe’s written answers to interview questions were projected during the second day of her trial on Friday.
“I can’t explain this to Gene. I can’t explain this to Sean,” read Chris Callaway, a special agent with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation, as Kehoe’s shaky handwriting appeared on the screen. “I just want to die or be locked up where I can’t hurt anyone else.”
Kehoe, 36, of Coralville, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and child endangerment causing injury. Her trial opened on Thursday. Authorities allege she bound both her sons with duct tape and cut their necks. Her older son, then 7-year-old Sean Kehoe survived and locked himself in a van until authorities found him the next day, police say. Seth Kehoe, who was 2, died.
Kehoe was writing answers to Callaway’s questions as she lay in a bed at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in the days after the alleged incident because authorities say she cut her own neck as well and couldn’t speak.
But, what authorities say is an accurate description of what happened on Oct. 26, 2008, came after she provided an equally detailed description of an unknown assailant who hid in her van before killing her sons and attempting to kill her.
The transcript shows Kehoe insisted for more than 60 of Callaway’s questions that a strange man attacked. For 60 questions, she told Callaway what the man was wearing, his hair color, and even what he smelled like – cigarette smoke and a dirty, unclean smell.
Kehoe initially told authorities the man had gotten into the back of her van in Jessup, Iowa. When she pulled off the road near Littleton to try to fight him off with pepper spray, he kicked the spray out of her hand before attacking.
“I was trying, trying, trying to get away,” Kehoe wrote to Callaway.
She said when she regained consciousness, she staggered to the nearest home.
But after taking a short break during the interview at UIHC, Callaway consulted with other law enforcement personnel and went back into the hospital room to confront Kehoe. Callaway testified he tried to gain Kehoe’s trust to encourage her to tell him the truth – a more effective approach than yelling or intimidation, he said. Eventually, Kehoe told him a story that matched up with Sean Kehoe’s account and evidence found at the scene.
“I can’t ever look at Sean again. I don’t know how to explain things to Gene or Sean, this disease in my head,” she wrote.
Kehoe’s attorney plans to use a defense of insanity or diminished capacity. Kehoe sat still, staring straight ahead as the interview transcript was read to the jury.
Prosecutors also called a manager at Paul’s Discount store, in Iowa City, who identified receipts showing Michelle Kehoe purchased something for $16.99 in September 2008. The knife recovered at the scene cost $16.99 at Paul’s, though in answer to defense attorney Andrea Dryer’s question, he acknowledged other items at the store also cost the same amount.
Other witnesses included another Department of Criminal Investigations agent, the Department of Natural Resources officer who found the knife allegedly used during the incident, and a teacher who found Kehoe’s cell phone in Jessup.
Prosecutors ran out of witnesses to call Friday, so the judge dismissed the court around noon. The state’s only remaining witness, a medical examiner, will not be available until Tuesday morning. First-district Judge Bruce Zager said he expected the case to wrap up next Thursday.