Crime has a ripple effect that far exceeds the primary victim. The arms of consequence reach out and surround the families and loved ones of all parties involved. In some cases, justice is clear, precise, certain, and complete. The assailant is behind bars, the facts are clear, and the legalities are over. Healing can begin and life can make some valiant attempt to carry on. In some instances, however, the waters are muddy, murky, and justice is questionable if it’s even achieved at all. The unimaginable torment families and friends go through when they have to continue to relive the event over and over again in court battles and appeals. Then, there is the ripple down to the loved ones of someone who could possibly be wrongfully convicted if the case is circumstantial, confusing, and has any glimmer of reasonable doubt. No family wants to admit their loved one could be a monster, I wouldn’t.
This is the story of the tragic murder of a beautiful, bright, and sweet 20-year old girl, and the case that led to the conviction of her boyfriend for her death. Is he the cold and calculated killer of his first love, or is he an innocent man locked away in prison?
Lapeer, Michigan is a small town about 20 miles east of Flint. It’s a rural town with a high unemployment rate, high crime rate, but a low homicide rate. In early 2011, 20-year-old Andrea Eilber met 19-year-old KC (Kenneth Carl) Grondin at the local Kroger they were working at. The two started dating and had what friends at the time, described as a good relationship. Andrea was KC’s first girlfriend, and he was, by all accounts, smitten. Fast forward to seven months later, November 14, 2011, when the fairy-tale ended and a nightmare began.
Andrea was house-sitting at her aunt and uncle’s home and made plans to see KC that night. Andrea asked KC to meet her at the home, but according to KC, when he arrived, Andrea’s car was gone and the house was dark. KC claims he knocked on the door, texted Andrea, and then sat and waited on the front porch for a reply. Andrea sent a response around fifteen minutes later canceling their plans for the first time in their seven month romance.
Confused, upset, and probably a little jealous, KC went back home where his roommates witnessed him coming back much sooner than they anticipated, visibly upset, and he went straight to his room. Court records show that KC attempted to call Andrea around 75 times over the next two days. KC was later seen at Kroger around 9:15 p.m. that same night by a fellow co-worker (Stacy) whom he spent the following few hours with watching movies. This witness said he left her apartment around midnight.
By late afternoon on November 15th, Andrea’s family had become concerned that they had not heard from her, and they couldn’t get her on the phone. They went by the house she was staying, her car was still gone, and no one responded to knocks at the door. Andrea’s family and friends formed a search party, while her father made reported her missing, and started doing everything they could to locate her. Curiously, KC declined to help the searchers stating he had to work early the next day.
During the search for Andrea on the 16th, a searcher located her car two miles away from where she was house-sitting, in the parking lot of a state wildlife area. The door of the car was slightly ajar and there was a single tire mark on the rear bumper. There was also a small burn pile not far from the vehicle. There was no sign of Andrea in or around the car.
All doors and windows at the home of Andrea’s aunt and uncle were locked and secured. A short time later that day, on the 16th, police were granted permission to break into the home. Police made their way through the house desperately searching for Andrea. They found her body awkwardly propped up against a chair in the basement laundry room. Her cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. She appeared to have ligature marks similar to what one would see with a zip tie, but none were found on her, or at the scene. The medical examiner testified that the ligature would have been present for 6-7 hours before being removed. It appeared there were things missing from within the home, but nothing valuable like you would expect to see with a robbery. I also found reports Andrea had been gagged and duct tape had been put over her mouth.
Andrea’s debit card had been taken and two separate $300 withdrawals had been made, once on the 14th at 10:23 p.m. and once on the 15th at 11:00 a.m. Police recovered the grainy black and white surveillance footage from the gas station the ATM withdrawal was made. It was close to impossible to make a positive ID because of video quality.
KC was a person of interest based on knowledge he was possibly the last to speak with Andrea. And let’s face it, it’s always the boyfriend/husband when a woman ends up missing or murdered, statistically speaking and according to Dateline anyway. When police questioned him, they also asked him to complete a polygraph, which he agreed to and in turn failed. Let’s not forget, I think polygraph tests are garbage science. During the next few hours, police questioned KC and he wrote a slightly incriminating, slightly coerced statement where he admitted to being at the scene and taking several items, which he did not specify, and that he wore gloves. His statement said he only found her body. He immediately recanted his statement when he saw the police were aiming their spotlight on him. A search warrant was produced for KC’s home where law enforcement collected the clothes he was wearing on the night in question from the laundry hamper. (These clothes were verified based on footage from Walmart) All clothes were dumped into the same paper evidence bag where a single bloody hair belonging to Andrea was later found on KC’s sweatpants. KC was arrested and charged with Andrea’s murder. It took 4 years to bring KC to trial.
After 12 days of trial and a two-day deliberation, KC was found guilty of first-degree felony murder. KC Grondin was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
So now I’m going to lay out a summary of the evidence used by the State and by the Defense to establish guilt and innocence so you can formulate your own opinion.
The State’s Case of Guilt
The State laid out a case of a jealous boyfriend desperate for money. They argued KC had texts on his phone from his mother about money and that was the precursor to the robbery. Since KC had access to the house, and his cell phone pinged there, the prosecution alleged that KC removed things from the house, moved Andrea’s car, removed the zip ties, and disposed of evidence to make it look like the victim was killed in the process of a robbery. The State claims the scene was staged based on the items of actual value left in the house.
Main points argued by the prosecution:
- In the written statement made by KC, it placed him at the scene distancing himself from involvement in the crime by stating her found her. Police stated this is a common tactic used to minimize involvement.
- As stated in KC’s statement, items were actually missing from the home. Those items were : a bottle of cologne, a men’s knit sweater, a GPS unit, a trail cam, an owl’s foot, three knives, a .22 caliber hunting rifle, some .22/250 bullets, some 303 British bullets, a bag of foreign coins, and $50 to $80 in cash. This is in addition to Andrea’s personal items that were missing, her debit card, phone, and car keys.
- KC also said in his statement that he wore gloves and burned them along with socks, not knowing that police had found a burn pile found near the victim’s car. Coincidence?
- Andrea’s bloody hair found on KC’s sweatpants. This is easily the most incriminating piece of evidence. The blood was dry and made no transfer to the sweatpants. An expert testified to the likelihood this could have come from police contamination, they testified low chance.
- No sign of forced entry, sign she probably let her killer inside willingly, she probably knew them.
- KC’s alibi witness was uncooperative with the police, and once the two started dating around a year later, she was considered a biased witness, giving KC a huge block of unaccounted for time the night of Andrea’s murder.
- KC was not a member of the search party for Andrea, he claimed he had to work early the next day, however, he was not scheduled to work.
- None of Andrea’s friends or family believe KC is innocent, some of Andrea’s friends even say he was a jealous boyfriend with a temper. The friend of Andrea’s that spoke on the behalf of KC on a TV special about the case, was actually a friend of KC’s who barely knew Andrea, and even lived at his mother’s home for a time. It appears only KC’s family and a few friends are willing to speak on his behalf.
- He gave a searcher/co-worker, Jeffery Babcock, the wrong street of the home Andrea was staying, even though he had just been there, however the area he led them was not far from where they located her car. Again, coincidence?
- The officer who collected KC’s clothes testified to not being in the room with the victim, lowering the chances of police contamination explaining the bloody hair.
- In rebuttal to cell phone pings, an expert in cellular telephone data and analysis, testified that it was a common strategy for criminals to use their cell phones to exculpate themselves from crimes by giving the phone to someone else so it will ping at a different location.
The Defense’s Case of Innocence
The defense built their case around the police focusing in on KC and not looking for other additional suspects or persons of interest. They also hung a lot of their case on the forensic evidence that actually pointed to their main theory of another suspect. They also focused on the cell pings and KC’s statement being coerced.
Main points argued by the Defense :
- When Andrea’s debit was used for the first $300 withdrawal at a Hantz Bank ATM in Davison, Michigan at 10:23 p.m., KC’s cell phone pinged on the tower near his friend Brittany Stacy’s house, where he said he was. This alibi was ruled biased, however.
- November 15, 2011, KC’s cell phone pinged the tower for his home at 11:00 a.m., at the same time, Andrea’s debit card was being used at a Speedway gas station in Burton,
Michigan. This is around 20 miles away. Of course, the defense argued the individual seen on the surveillance footage at the Speedway was the suspect, not KC.
- No automobile fluid on any of defendant’s shoes that were seized during the search warrant. Fluid being found on the floorboard of the driver’s seat of Andrea’s car.
- There was unidentified DNA was found in Andrea’s car on the steering wheel, gear-shift, and emergency brake handle.
- DNA from under Andrea’s fingernails showed Andrea’s own DNA as well as that of an unknown individual under one nail.
- Unidentified DNA was removed from the back of the chair where Andrea was found.
- Unidentified fingerprints were found on one of two glasses that were in the sink of the kitchen, and on the sliding glass door to the basement.
- A cigarette butt found in the driveway that was taken as evidence contained the DNA of an unknown male.
- A note left on the counter with KC’s name and number, the spare key, and unknown DNA.
- The defense argued the bloody hair found on the sweatpants was a product of poor evidence collection, and preservation hinting at the possibility of police contamination since there was no transfer of blood to the pants. There was also no blood spatter of any kind on KC’s clothes. The clothes were placed in an evidence bag but were not sealed giving the opportunity to contamination.
- A neighbor of the home where Andrea was found, stated that a blue car
with a red quarter-panel and loud exhaust was at the house at 7:30 p.m. on
November 15, 2011. Suspect?
- The defense argued that KC’s statement was coerced, he was told a similar statement by police before writing his statement, and he was told he could go home if he just made the statement. He had no counsel present but also went willingly.
- Appears the person in the gas station ATM footage is 6’1″, KC is only 5’10”.
- The defense believes the police should have investigated Jeffery Babcock as a suspect. This is the coworker and searcher who found Andrea’s car. Babcock also owned a black SUV, a black SUV was seen on the gas station ATM footage. Apparently, Babcock also called KC the night of the 15th, even though he did not have KC’s phone number. Could this explain the note on the counter with KC’s name and number? Babcock’s jeep or house were never searched and a DNA sample was never obtained. He curiously resigned from Kroger after years of employment a few weeks after Andrea’s death. Could he be a match to the unknown DNA samples?
So did the prosecution adequately supply a burden of proof? Would you find KC guilty of restraining, robbing, and killing his girlfriend over money or jealousy? Did the prosecution provide enough evidence that substantiates KC committing the crime, returning to the house the next day to remove the restraints, and burning his gloves next to where he abandoned Andrea’s car? And there’s the fact that not one of Andrea’s friends has a problem believing KC is guilty, so how perfect was their relationship really?
Or did the defense convince you there is enough reasonable doubt in this case to find KC innocent of murder? Keep in mind, the defense technically only has to prove reasonable doubt, just poke holes in the strength of the State’s burden of proof. Is there a strong possibility there could be a different suspect? Cell phone pings place KC somewhere else, there’s so much unidentified DNA, and the suspect on the video is taller than KC. But can you excuse the bloody hair? Do you buy into the defense’s theory of poor evidence preservation and police contamination, even though the officer testified to never being in the room with Andrea?
I’m honestly unsure where I land on this case. It’s really hard for me to agree with police contamination here. I am bothered by the bag not immediately being sealed, but multiple people testified to the almost impossible likelihood of this happening, and I think an accomplice after the fact could explain away the unidentified DNA. Buuuut I can also see some of the reasonable doubt the defense presented. This one has the critical thinking and logic parts of my brain in turmoil. I would like to know if all of the unidentified DNA belongs to the same individual.
In June of 2018, a court of appeals granted KC a new trial based on the jury verdict form being insufficient, not allowing the jury to find KC not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of a lesser charge of second-degree murder, or manslaughter. He will remain in custody. A new trial date has not yet been set. I am interested to see the evidence presented at the next trial.
So, where do you land on reasonable doubt for KC? Do you feel more strongly about his guilt or innocence? What are the most important pieces of evidence to you in this case? Most importantly, do you think there has been justice for Andrea?