EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is the third in a three-part series about the 2004 murder of Julie Keown, by her husband James Keown, as detailed by private investigator and non-fiction crime writer Lara Bricker in her book “Lie After Lie.” Bricker gave a lecture on the book and case on Wednesday, April 13th at the Waltham Public Library.
Click to read part two of the series and to see part one.
A HUSBAND MOVES ON
After Julie’s death, James Keown moved back to Jefferson City, Missouri, and returned to radio, according to crime author Lara Bricker, who spoke about her new book last month at the .
As host of a popular political radio talk show called “Party Line,” James was well-known and well-liked, Bricker said in her library talk. Before long, he had a new girlfriend whose name was Julie. He called her Julie Two, according to Bricker.
While moving on with his life, James told friends and co-workers conflicting stories about his wife’s death and about the fact that he was being investigated, Bricker said. James’s new life, however, hit one hitch when he left nearly all his possessions behind when he left Waltham, except his laptop. The laptop would eventually be his downfall.
A BREAK IN THE CASE
In May 2005, a nurse who was friendly with Julie contacted police about a bizarre conversation that he had with James when Julie was gravely ill at , Bricker said. James told Julie’s friend that she may have become disoriented and drank antifreeze from a Gatorade bottle that someone left in the trash, according to Bricker. Another friend of Julie’s told police that James was constantly insisting that his wife drink Gatorade, even though she was not fond of the drink, Bricker said. These two statements, along with the circumstantial evidence the police had collected, were enough to for Middlesex Superior Court grand jury to indict James on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005.
Evidence in hand, State Police and DA officials travelled to Jefferson City, where they arrested James during a commercial break from his radio program, according to Bricker and the DA’s office. The operation was conducted with extreme secrecy because James was considered a flight risk, Bricker said.
The arrest led to the discovery of James’s laptop, which contained the most damaging evidence against him. In the months prior to Julie’s death, James had used his laptop to research how to kill someone using ethylene glycol, Bricker said.
MOTIVE FOR MURDER
Bricker believes that James’s motive for murdering Julie was two-fold. He likely needed the money from Julie’s life insurance policy, but Bricker also believes that James knew that the façade of his life was crumbling and could not bear Julie learning the truth about him.
JUSTICE FOR JULIE
On July 2, 2008, after deliberating for less than two days, a jury returned a guilty verdict on one count of first-degree murder. Judge Sandra Hamlin sentenced Keown to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is being housed at MCI-Norfolk, a medium-security state prison, according to state Department of Correction spokesman Diane Wiffin.
For two individuals who sat on the jury, both of whom attended the lecture, the trial was deeply troubling.
“It was hard. We looked at every possible angle,” said Charmaine Cook, who sat on the jury that convicted James.
The difficulty of agreeing on a verdict brought tears to the eyes of many jurors, according to Cook. When asked what the lynchpin of the case was, she responded without hesitation — computer evidence.
“When you see he searched on 'ethylene plus death plus poison,' you can’t ignore that,” Cook said.
A second juror said the sentencing process was particularly trying.
“It’s hard to send someone away for life,” said Elaine Romano, the other juror who attended the lecture. “I wouldn’t want to have to do it again.”
MORE DETAILS EMERGE ABOUT JAMES KEOWN
According to Bricker, James’s bizarre story does not end with his imprisonment. A strange detail surrounding James’s online screen name — Keyser Soze — was revealed during the trial. Some of the jurors understood the reference to the movie “The Usual Suspects” in which actor Kevin Spacey plays a stone-cold killer who goes by that name. Spacey’s character’s identity as a criminal mastermind was a secret from the viewers until the last moments of the film. He escaped because no one ever really knew who he was. Apparently, Keown considered the character heroic, Bricker said.
The jurors who understood the reference, however, were cautioned not to tell other jurors about the movie or its surprise ending.
Even from jail, James is still maintaining a semblance of life, Bricker said. He has written to childhood friends about the beauty of fall in New England and about the “great guys” he has met during his prison term, the author lectured.
As James continues his sentence, the lives of Julie’s friends and family will never be the same, the Keown case, hoever, will forever be an infamous part of Waltham’s history.