Big day expected in Jones murder trial

PHOTO BY KAILA JONES

VERO BEACH – The final witness jurors heard from on Tuesday, testifying just past 5 p.m. teed up what is expected to be a difficult and disturbing, yet important day Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial of accused killer Michael David Jones.

After a tedious day of technical evidence about cell phone records, cell towers and forensics software, plus a lengthy probe into defense attorneys claims they did not receive a report prosecutors say was loaded on a shared hard drive in 2017, testimony from two police officers got the timeline of events from June 2014 moving swiftly again.

On Sunday, June 22, 2014, 26-year-old Sebastian River Medical Center nurse Diana Duve had not been seen or heard from since before 2 a.m. on Friday, June 20. Police were tracking Duve through cell phone records and numerous interviews with family and friends. They were also tracking Jones, who was the last person seen with Duve leaving What-A-Tavern at Royal Palm Point around 1:15 a.m. that Friday morning. 

Vero Beach Police Cpl. Brad Kmetz, the lead detective on the case, testified to finding Jones in room 421 of the Hampton Inn in Ft. Pierce and an audio recording was played of Jones stating he unequivocally did not know where his then-missing girlfriend Duve was. A front desk clerk from the Hampton Inn verified that she’d checked Jones in and a video from the hotel lobby 

Kmetz also testified to the contents of the trunk of Jones’ gold Honda Accord found in the Hampton Inn parking lot, and unsealed before the jury evidence packages containing a baseball cap found in the trunk, plus the shirt, blue jeans, flip, flops, boxer briefs, belt and watch Jones was wearing when arrested.

Jones was initially picked up on Violation of Probation as he was not supposed to leave Indian River County without permission after taking a plea deal in a Broward County aggravated stalking case and getting five years’ probation. 

Brevard Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Valutsky moved the state’s narrative up to the cliff hanger at which jurors were left at the end of the day.

In the summer of 2014 during the search for the missing Duve, Deputy Valutsky was working road patrol duty for a different agency, the Melbourne Police Department. 

After cell phone data obtained via search warrant on the defendant Jones’ phone by Vero Beach police pointed to a tower on top of the Rialto Place Hilton on Babcock Street in Melbourne, an alert was sent out to officers to canvass the area for Duve’s black 2013 Nissan Altima.

Valutsky said he drove through the Rialto parking lot and the vehicle was not there, but then he noticed a black car fitting the description in the Publix parking lot across the street. He matched the license plate, looked in the windows and touched the hood to see if it was hot. The find was then relayed to the Vero Beach Police Department where Det. Brad Kmetz had the extra set of keys given to him by Duve’s mother, Lena Andrews in case the car was found and needed to be opened.

Jurors were shown photos of the vehicle in the Publix parking lot — the doors and trunk still locked — and Valutsky confirmed that was the vehicle he had found. Those photos were already in evidence as Andrews had positively identified them to the court as her daughter’s car.

The defense pointed out that Valutsky had not pulled security video from the Publix shopping center, or ID’d the other car in the parking lot a short distance from Duve’s car, but Valutsky at the time was a road patrol cop on the beat, not a detective.

Valutsky also got up from the stand and pointed out on a large aerial photo the proximity of where the car was found to the Rialto cell tower and to a Wendy’s restaurant where prosecutors say security video shows images of Jones getting in a Black Diamond Taxi. That video has not yet been shown and the cab driver has not yet testified, but police interviews with the cab driver, which are part of the more than 6,000 pages of discovery in the case, show the cabbie identified Jones as the passenger he picked up at Wendy’s and drove to Vero Beach.

During jury selection, members of the jury pool were told that Duve’s body was found locked in the trunk of her car, and that they would need to view graphic photos taken of the victim’s body as found by police.  

As the trial resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday before Judge Dan Vaughn in Courtroom 4 at the Indian River County Courthouse, it is expected that the story will pick up with Kmetz arriving with the keys to the Nissan Altima and opening the trunk.

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