Murder defendant sang as he strangled victim, St. Louis County prosecutors say

2013-04-23T05:00:00Z 2013-06-10T10:55:09Z Murder defendant sang as he strangled victim, St. Louis County prosecutors sayBy Jennifer Mann 314-621-5804

CLAYTON • The last words 19-year-old James Robert “JJ” Willman heard were lyrics to a rock song, “There Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” prosecutors said in a murder trial here Monday.

According to authorities, Keith M. Meiners, of Overland, sang that tune while he stood on Willman’s neck, applying pressure until Willman, of Woodson Terrace, stopped breathing on Nov. 27, 2010.

Meiners, now 21 and on trial for first-degree murder, allegedly confessed the details to others. He also allegedly told a friend after the murder: “Took care of my problem.”

Willman’s badly decomposed body was found 3½ months later in a conservation area off Columbia Bottom Road, about two miles from where Willman’s abandoned car was found at a rest stop off Interstate 270. Meiners was charged two weeks later.

Authorities say Meiners believed Willman had given his girlfriend a sexually transmitted disease. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Tom Dittmeier did not relay that detail to jurors in opening statements Monday in St Louis County Circuit Court. But he did hint at discord.

The prosecutor said Willman was in an on-again-off-again relationship with Meiners’ girlfriend that ended in July that year. In September of that year, Dittmeier said, the girlfriend told Willman to stop talking to her because he was hitting on her.

Prosecutors say that on the night of the murder, Meiners asked Willman to join him at a party and gave him whiskey with crushed painkillers. The two later left with another man, Justice Brickey, who became a key witness for authorities.

Brickey allegedly told police that he watched Meiners, who was “filled with rage,” strangling Willman in the back of Willman’s car. Brickey said he helped Meiners carry away Willman’s motionless body. Brickey was unable to give a full account — according to Dittmeier, because he was drunk and got sick during some of the events.

Defense attorney David Bruns, in his opening statement, suggested that jurors should doubt Brickey’s story. He pointed out inconsistencies in the account, and warned, “This man can make up details that just aren’t true.”

A medical examiner is expected to testify that Willman died from homicidal violence, but the extent of the decomposition prevents him from knowing the exact manner. There is no physical evidence connecting Meiners to the murder, although witnesses reportedly told authorities they saw blood on his shirt later that night.

The trial will continue this morning.

Jennifer Mann covers state courts and the criminal justice system. Follow j_s_mann on Twitter.

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