18-year-old Kylie Friend, accused of instigating the robbery and beating that led to her brother's death, has accepted a plea bargain agreement.
MIAMI - Accused of instigating the robbery and beating that led to her brother's death, 18-year-old Kylie Friend, of Miami, took a plea bargain agreement to a lesser charge than the first-degree murder charge she also once faced.
Friend, represented by court-appointed Miami attorney Andrew Meloy, withdrew her not guilty plea and entered a plea of guilty to charges of first-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery in Ottawa District Court on April 17.
Wearing glasses, her hair worn down and tucked behind her ears and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, Friend answered Judge Robert Haney's plea agreement questioning. In exchange for the guilty plea, Friend received a life sentence with all but 15 years suspended in prison at 85 percent of time to be served for the first-degree robbery charge.
“After consulting with the victim's family and the defendant's family, I made an offer to Ms. Friend that she accepted in court today,” Ottawa County District Attorney Kenny Wright said after the court proceeding. “I believe it is a fair and just resolution to the part she played in her brother's death.”
Friend left the courtroom smiling, waving and telling family members sitting in the benches she loved them.
Friend will remain under the rules of probation and parole once released from prison after completing her sentence.
According to the probable cause statement filed in the murder case, Caleb Friend was shot in the head, and his friends later discovered his lifeless body in January of 2016 at his residence at 314 K Street NW in Miami.
Initially, three suspects; Brandon Lee Jones, 39, John Kevin Rather Jr., 35 and Kylie Friend, were charged in connection to the Jan. 17, 2016 murder of 23-year-old Caleb Friend, Kylie Friend's brother.
Witnesses and Kylie Friend’s statements say they saw Jones and rather shortly after the murder, and both men had blood on them and were acting suspiciously. Witness statements diverge on whether Kylie Friend was or was not with Jones and Rather when the murder occurred.
Kylie Friend told police, that Rather told her, the shooting was an accident occurring while Jones was pistol-whipping Caleb Friend after attempting to rob him of money and marijuana.
Charges were dropped by Wright against Jones and Rather after key material witnesses including Brian “Bo” Bunce, Ashley Key, and David Chafee, failed to show for court, refused to testify or changed prior testimony by saying they could not recall details and were afraid to testify.
Key and Chafee were bound over in the Ottawa County Jail after material witness warrants holding them were issued for failing to appear in court after subpoena for their testimony.
“Following Friend's plea and sentencing I also released Ashley Key and David Chafee from their material witness warrants,” Wright said.
The prosecutor said he has varied emotions about the plea agreement he offered to Friend.
“I still have very mixed feelings about this and always will,” Wright said. “The evidence indicates that Ms. Friend did not intend to have her brother killed, only robbed and beat up. While that does not technically absolve her of murder, it was the primary fact that led to her plea agreement.”
Wright expressed his frustration with the hesitancy of witnesses to testify and that impact on the prosecution of the crime.
“It is unfortunate that two men who are likely responsible for Mr. Friend's murder have temporarily escaped justice because witnesses did not have the courage to tell the truth. We deal with frightened and intimidated witnesses regularly. Most of them ultimately make the right choice. In these cases, however, Mr. Bunce's moral conscience could not overcome his cowardice.”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.