Murder trial for Denver architect Micah Kimball debates how Michelle Jacobson died

What happened during the hours — and even the minutes — before Denver real estate broker Michelle Jacobson died on Sept. 26 is clear, documented by videos, texts and voicemails.

She and her fiance loudly argued. She drank heavily and he disparaged and recorded her, locking her out of their shared Speer neighborhood home. Their fighting woke neighbors and prompted one to call 911 after someone heard Jacobson crying for help.

Just after midnight, Jacobson was killed, shot once through the top of her head while in bed. And in opening statements delivered Wednesday during the murder trial for Jacobson’s fiance, 44-year-old Micah Kimball, the prosecution and defense laid out two very different depictions of how she died.

Prosecutors argued Kimball killed Jacobson because he was enraged that she’d defied his wishes all night, and then re-positioned the gun and her body to make it look like a suicide.

Jacobson killed herself, defense attorneys countered, in an act driven by drugs and alcohol at the end of a contentious, rage-filled night. Denver police jumped to conclusions when they pinned Jacobson’s death on Kimball and failed to consider evidence that pointed to suicide in a rush to make an arrest, they argued.

“The defendant spent that night trying to exert control over Ms. Jacobson,” Deputy District Attorney Bilal Aziz told the jury. “And when she defied him, he took control back and killed her. Ms. Jacobson died in her bed. She died in the dark.”

He pointed to text messages, voicemails, phone records and witness accounts that show the couple split up after a disagreement at a party around 9 p.m., with Kimball going home and Jacobson staying out. Kimball then called Jacobson 13 times over the next couple hours and texted her multiple times asking where she was and when she was coming home.

In one message around 10:30 p.m., he said, “Hey baby, just trying to figure out when you’ll be home…and who baby is, and where home is, because you gave up on both.”

In another, he sent her a map of her location at a bar and accused her of lying about being on her way home, Aziz said. Later in the night, after she had returned home, Kimball accused Jacobson of cheating on him, locked her out of their home and told her she forgot to pay rent.

In the last video that shows Jacobson alive, she is inside their home and Kimball moves between her and the front door. He slams the door shut, but it bounces back open. He pulls it shut again and locks it, Aziz said.

“You can hear Ms. Jacobson say, ‘Me?’ and the defendant says, ‘Yes you’ and walks toward her. That is the last image of Ms. Jacobson when she is alive,” Aziz said as he described the video.

Minutes later, she is shot in her bed.

Defense attorney Dru Nielsen acknowledged Kimballs’ rude and offensive comments, but said his text messages and calls were driven by loving concern for Jacobson, who was both very drunk and had amphetamine in her system when she died. Jacobson’s behavior at the home that night — she punched a window and broke the glass in an attempt to get inside the locked house, then tried kicking down doors to get inside — showed she was unstable, Nielsen said.

“Not surprisingly, Michelle was reckless, impulsive and out of control in the minutes before her death,” she said.

The physical evidence in the case shows Jacobson died by suicide with a contact wound to her head, and Kimball was in another room at the time the shot was fired, Nielsen argued to the jury. Kimball’s clothing did not have any blood spatter on it, she said, and it would have been impossible for him to shoot her at such close range without the blood hitting him, as it hit several other surfaces in the room. Kimball’s DNA was also not found on the trigger of the gun — but Jacobson’s was.

The medical examiner ruled the cause of death to be undetermined, in part because it is physically possible for someone to shoot themselves in the top of their head.

A short video recorded on Kimball’s phone at 12:09 a.m. on Sept. 27 shows him going into the bedroom after Jacobson died, and shows her body, both sides agreed. That video shows Jacobson’s body in one position and the gun on the right side of her body. But when police arrive minutes later, Jacobson’s body is in a different position and the gun has been moved to her left side.

The prosecution pointed to that as evidence Kimball posed the scene; his defense team argued he’d moved the gun in order to try to provide first aid, and said Kimball was wailing, “No no no,” in the video.

In a 911 call, Kimball said that he and Jacobson had been “playing with a gun, and it went off.” He also said he was in another room when the gun fired and that he didn’t know what had happened.

“You don’t have to understand why Michelle was acting this way or why Micah and Michelle were arguing,” Nielsen said. “The scientific and physical evidence shows Micah did not murder Michelle.”

The case began before Denver District Judge Jay Grant Wednesday morning with a variety of precautions and changes because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Only a limited number of people were allowed to attend the trial in person, and others listened to an audio-only livestream online, which cut in and out a few times during attorneys’ opening statements. Members of the jury sat outside of the traditional jury box, spaced six feet from each other.

The trial is expected to last several days.

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