The murder of Jessica Keen by Marvin Lee Smith, Jr. is the subject of this week’s episode of the Investigation Discovery show Dead Silent.
In early 1991, Jessica Keen was a fifteen-year-old girl living in Columbus, Ohio. An honor roll student and cheerleader, she was every parent’s dream child. But that all started to change when she fell for 18-year-old Shawn Thompson, a high school dropout. Shortly after they started dating, Jessica began to rebel – her grades dropped, she started skipping school, and she quit cheerleading. Desperate to get her daughter back on the right path, Jessica’s mother, Rebecca, placed her in a group home for troubled teens called Huckleberry House in March 1991.
On March 15, 1991, Jessica had an argument with Shawn over the phone, and then left Huckleberry House shortly thereafter to go to the mall. She never returned to the group home, and two days later, her body was discovered behind the Foster Chapel Cemetery, about 20 miles from Huckleberry House. She had been raped and bludgeoned to death with a tombstone.
Police believed that Jessica had been forced into a car and held captive for hours while being raped and beaten repeatedly. Somehow she had managed to escape her captors and tried to flee for her life, running into the cemetery where her fate would be cruelly sealed. Evidence to support their theory included a sock discovered on the road and footprints in mud, as well as pieces of discarded duct tape.
Jessica tried to hide behind several tombstones in hopes her attackers wouldn’t see her, and after seeing a light coming from a farmhouse, raced toward it to try and get help. She slammed into a fence, knocking her to the ground. Her attackers caught up with her and beat her with a tombstone until she took her last breath, suffering tremendously right until the very end.
Police immediately zeroed in on her boyfriend, Shawn Thompson, especially when it was discovered that a necklace he had given her was missing from her body. However, he had an iron-clad alibi, having been with friends in Florida. His DNA also wasn’t a match for the DNA found at the crime scene.
For years, Jessica’s vicious and violent murder went unsolved. It would take 17 years to bring her killer to justice.
Marvin Lee Smith, Jr., had been out on bond at the time of Jessica’s murder, having been charged with sexually assaulting two Columbus women. He was convicted of those sexual assaults and did time in prison, and when he was released in June 2000, he was required to submit a DNA sample for the national DNA database, a term of his parole conditions.
That small swab of DNA would ensure that Jessica Keen finally saw justice, and Marvin Lee Smith, Jr., would not be out on parole for long.
In April 2008, Smith was arrested for the abduction, rape, and murder of Jessica Keen. To avoid the death penalty, he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 30 years to life, with no chance for parole until 2038.
Smith claimed to have acted completely alone in the crime. He also confessed to hitting Jessica so hard over the head with a 70-pound tombstone that it broke in half.
Dead Silent airs on Investigation Discovery on Thursdays at 9 p.m.