A jailhouse plot combined with the temptation of $20,000 in cash led to a gruesome stabbing, a bloody fingerprint, an attempted cover up and a pair of arrests.
Those details described at a preliminary hearing Friday by a Colorado Springs police detective led 4th Judicial District Judge Robin Chittum to rule that former Fort Carson soldier Joseph Tyler Kimsey and his one-time jail mate Jonathan Paul Nelson would be tried on first-degree murder charges in the stabbing death of 27-year-old Ashley Melnyczok.
Nelson was arrested June 3 after a wild police chase in northern Colorado Springs. And Kimsey, the victim's ex-boyfriend, was taken into custody in Canon City on June 30.
Chittum said during her late afternoon ruling that she couldn't simply "look at any one thing" when making her decision to order the two to trial on multiple charges.
"You have to look at the big picture," she said.
According to Det. Jerry Schiffelbein's testimony, that big picture began with a conversation in the spring between Nelson, Kimsey and a fellow inmate at the El Paso County jail.
The inmate reached out to police after the June arrests, and told Schiffelbein that the defendants talked about robbing Melnyczok, who they said worked as an escort and kept $20,000 in cash at her apartment.
During the jailhouse conversations, Nelson suggested that if he and Kimsey committed the robbery, they could not leave any witnesses. According to Schiffelbein's testimony of the interview, the inmate said Nelson told Kimsey that if Melnyczok was at the apartment during the theft, they'd have to kill her. Kimsey agreed, noting that guns could not be used as firearms would be easily traced, according to testimony on Friday.
Melnyczok's body was found in her unit at the Grand River Canyon Apartments on June 3 when a friend, Robert Hunzeker, went there because he was worried after not hearing from the woman for days. Hunzeker knocked, but nobody answered, Schiffelbein said. Hunzeker left and came back about 10 minutes later, eventually breaking in and finding Melnyczok's bloody body, with stab wounds and a plastic Pier-1 Imports bag taped over her head.
According to testimony from the detective, witnesses said Nelson and Kimsey talked about the crime after the fact, saying the bag was used because the woman was "screaming too loud." Investigators found bloody fingerprints on the bag, and one of the prints matched Nelson's, Schiffelbein said.
The detective said gruesome details of the killing came from an interview with Thomas O'Hanley. The defendants showed up at his home on North Weber Street near downtown Colorado Springs, and one of them was driving Melnyczok's white Toyota Celica, according to testimony. The detective said Nelson and Kimsey told O'Hanley about stabbing Melnyczok, and said it was a crime that "Kimsey committed and Nelson assisted."
The El Paso County Coroner's Office determined the time of death was likely around 3 or 4 p.m. on June 1, two days before her body was found.
Schiffelbein testified that a man matching Nelson's description and calling himself "J.P." answered the door at the woman's apartment during that timeframe. He told Hunzeker, who knocked on the door that day, that the woman was out running errands, Schiffelbein said.
Nelson was arrested after he returned to the apartment on June 3 and was seen entering Melnyczok's unit carrying a black bag. According to testimony, a black gym bag with a machete, poncho, pair of jeans and carpet cleaning materials was found in the stolen black Mercedes Nelson drove as he eluded police before his arrest.
According to Friday's testimony, Kimsey tried to cover his tracks, telling multiple people he was in South Carolina during the first few days of June. But cell phone records, a receipt from the Angler's Covey fly shop and other witnesses put the former soldier in Colorado Springs during those days. He met a friend to pay her back for bonding him out of jail shortly after 5 p.m. on June 1, Schiffelbein said, noting that Kimsey apparently gave the woman $1,000 in cash.
Kimsey and Nelson will be in court again Dec. 1 for a motions hearing before an arraignment on Jan. 27.