Conviction in Janna Kelly murder overturned; Robin Root to get new trial

Posted at 11:52 AM, Sep 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-01 11:52:16-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Michigan Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for a woman convicted in the 2007 death of Janna Kelly.

Robin Root was jury-convicted of first-degree murder in December 2015, and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Cold-case detectives identified Root as a suspect seven years after Kelly’s body was found in an Ottawa County field.

The court ruled Friday that Root’s conviction should be overturned, saying the trial court wrongly  denied her motion to suppress parts of an April 2015 videotaped statement to police “that were obtained in violation of her constitutional rights.”

Root contended that police “procured her statements through what turned into a custodial interrogation without informing her of her Miranda rights” and depriving her of her Fifth Amendment rights.

Kelly, 60, disappeared from her Grand Rapids home Dec. 4, 2007.  Her body was found March 13, 2008, in Grand Haven Township, according to Ottawa County officials. Court documents indicate “someone had stripped Kelly of her clothing, dumped her in a secluded area, and set her on fire using gasoline.” The reports also say her mouth and limbs had been duct-taped.

DNA evidence collected in 2007 implicated Root, but Grand Rapids Police didn’t submit the evidence to the state crime lab.

Ottawa County detectives found the evidence in 2014 and submitted it.

Root confessed to murdering Kelly during a roughly six hour interview with authorities on April 27, 2015.  She unsuccessfully sought to suppress the confession from being admitted as evidence.

Root told detectives that Kelly was upset that Root didn’t have “back rent” money that Root owed to Kelly.  Kelly had been Root’s landlord. Root confessed to detectives that she pushed Kelly during an argument. At her trial, Root said that  Kelly fell, hit her head and was knocked unconscious. Root said it was an accident, and she covered up the crime out of panic. Police said after that, Root put Kelly in  the trunk of her (Kelly’s) car. When Root came back later, Kelly was dead.

Police found Kelly’s car parked in a nearby neighborhood. According to court documents, officers  found blood on the car. Kelly’s purse, wallet and jacket were discovered at a local car wash.

The Court of Appeals claims the trial court erred “when it determined that Root was not in custody before being formally told that she was under arrest….the detectives should have advised Root of her rights consistent with Miranda and, because they did not, her statements after that point were inadmissable.”

A new trial date for Root has not yet been scheduled.