Day one of murder trial depicts tumultuous relationship

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Jimmy McDaniel (left) walks into the Crawford County second-floor courtroom at the beginning of his trial, in which he faces first-degree reckless homicide and strangulation charges. Also pictured is his legal team, Jeffrey Erickson (center) and Vince Rust. (Photos by Correne Martin)

Holly Little is a brother-in-law to Linda Kline, who lived with him and her sister, Michelle Little (who has since passed), in October 2016 when she died on the property. Holly Little was the first to testify in court Tuesday. He is shown here describing the layout of his backyard, where Kline was found dead.

McDaniel accused of first-degree reckless homicide, strangulation

By Correne Martin

Jimmy McDaniel and Linda Kline had a complicated relationship fueled by alcohol. Witnesses observed their constant fighting. But that doesn’t mean anyone else but the two of them knows exactly what happened Oct. 4 and 5, 2016, at her sister’s Bridgeport house where they were staying.

It is the job of a select Crawford County jury to determine whether or not the accused, McDaniel, 49, is guilty of first-degree reckless homicide and strangulation. 

Opening statements were made and the first few witnesses were called Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 7, in the trial accusing McDaniel of murdering Kline, his on-and-off girlfriend of a year. 

Crawford County Judge Lynn Rider and the jury, selected Tuesday morning, heard remarks from District Attorney Tim Baxter and Attorney Jeffrey Erickson, representing McDaniel. Holly Little, who owns the house where the incident occurred, and neighbors, Shirley and Duane Esser, testified in court Tuesday.

Erickson painted a picture of the couple’s relationship, from his client’s perspective. He said the two met as over-the-road truckers—Kline, who resided in Maryland but was from Prairie du Chien, and McDaniel, who is from Georgia. They both had other people in their lives but, after becoming a team and driving together, they formed a romantic relationship. Erickson described several instances of dispute between the couple, at least three while on the road, and he provided a glimpse into McDaniel’s version of what happened during those times. Erickson stated that, in three separate feuds, Kline was “distraught” and either disappeared into the woods, overdosed on pills or laid in the middle of the road. 

In May 2016, both McDaniel and Kline lost their jobs, Erickson said, after a fight on the road. In July 2016, Kline was involved in a “horrific ATV accident,” according to the defense, and later developed a staph infection, resulting in a lengthy hospital stay. Afterward, she stayed semi-permanently with her sister, Michelle Little (who died in October 2017) and her husband, Holly Little, in Bridgeport. McDaniel stayed there also, off and on until October, when he regularly began living at the residence with Kline. 

Erickson provided a timeline for the events of Oct. 4-5, 2016. The two worked outside, clearing brush on the property in the morning, went to an appointment and then, in the evening, started “talking about where [their relationship] was headed and about the drinking (problem).” Erickson told the court that Kline then “walked outside like she does when things get intense.” He said McDaniel let her go, played a video game and talked to his son, before he began to start looking for his girlfriend outside the residence. 

“He comes upon her hanging body and takes her down. Distraught, he runs to the door and tells Michelle to call 911, then he goes back and tries to administer CPR,” the attorney narrated. “The theme here is ‘failure to thrive.’ [Linda was] failing to go forward in the world. It’s tragic but, ultimately, he was there and he tried to revive her but couldn’t.”

Baxter’s remarks were more direct to the jury. He said his witnesses, including the officers who responded to the scene, were there immediately after being called by dispatch. He said the details of their testimonies would be key to the case. 

During Baxter’s questioning of his witnesses, Holly Little affirmed that Kline and McDaniel stayed together in his basement, which had a direct exit to his backyard. 

“It seemed like every time they were drinking, they were fighting,” Little remarked. 

The ATV accident was brought up and Little said his sister-in-law and McDaniel often used his four-wheeler without his permission. He said the “terrible crash,” which left her seriously injured, didn’t leave much damage at all to his four-wheeler. He said he still uses it frequently and it works fine. 

Showing pictures in court, Baxter had Little point out areas of his backyard, including a “rotten” pole standing, which once had a T-post screwed to the top for birdfeeders and a planter. Little pointed to the T-post that was no longer on the pole in the pictures exhibited. He said the pole was since taken as evidence. Little also made note of an iPhone cord lying by an outlet in the basement. He said, typically, there was an extension cord attaching the iPhone cord to the outlet but, in the picture provided by the DA’s office, that extension cord was not there. 

In talking to neighbors Duane and Shirley Esser, Baxter had them share their stories of also hearing fighting often from a man and a woman at the Little house. 

“I heard fighting, a lot of fighting. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could tell by the tone in their voices what was going on,” Shirley Esser stated, noting that the arguing was usually so loud that she could hear them from inside her home.

Baxter’s intent was to prove that the Essers could hear and see what happened at their neighbors’ property pretty well. However, Erickson tried to establish doubt that the Essers definitively knew who or what was present down the road.

During the first afternoon of the trial, Linda’s mother, Colleen Munz, sat behind the DA’s desk, fidgeting, with tears in her eyes many times. Linda’s brother, daughter and son also sat solemnly in the courtroom.

As McDaniel sat on his side of the room, mostly unexpressive, he rarely spoke to his attorney or co-counsel. He looked around the room once, seemingly surveying the crowd, but otherwise drank several cups of coffee and appeared focused on listening. 

The McDaniel trial will continue this week. Witnesses, including the responding officers and evidence experts, were expected to take the stand. A verdict is hoped by Friday at the latest. 

Additional details of the trial will be reported in Monday’s Courier Press. Once deliberation is complete and a verdict is reached, the Courier will have the news available at pdccourier.com and on Facebook.  

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