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Last updated on Thursday, April 19, 2012
(PAOLI) - Nick Herthel, Sterlen Keller’s public defender, says his client didn’t kill Robert Collier.
Keller is on trial this week in Orange Circuit Court, but Prosecutor Kelly Minton says Keller is a liar, thief and murderer.
Herthel says Keller was salvaging items for scrap from Collier's property near Bromer.
Keller, 24, Salem, is one of two men who were charged with murder in October 2010 after Collier's badly decomposed body was found on his property. The other man arrested was Marvin Noland, 20, Pekin.
Keller also is charged with one count of auto theft, one count of burglary, nine counts of theft and one count of failure to report a body.
Minton told jurors that several items were missing from Collier's property. Minton says he needed to items to sell so he could pay utility bills.
Herthel told the jury that Keller was an acquaintance of Colliers and had asked if he could scrap items owned by Collier. Collier was to get 60 percent of the money made from the sale of scrap and Keller would get 40 percent.
According to police report states Collier was at home when Keller and Noland went to his property and the three men began looking at a fuel tank for scrap. Noland told police he heard a noise and turned around to see Keller strangling Collier.
Herthel told jurors they will hear testimony from forensic experts who will say the cause of Collier's death is undetermined.
"Forensic pathologists will tell you that they can't rule out a heart attack as a cause of death, or a stroke or any other natural cause of death,"
Herthel said. He said the jury will hear "no direct evidence" in the case that ties Keller to Collier's death.
The prosecution called a number of witnesses to the stand Wednesday, beginning with Keller's stepfather, Joe Howell.
He told Washington County Sheriff's Department Deputy Rick Stewart, now retired, on Oct. 9, 2010, that a truck registered to Collier was in Keller's possession. Howell testified that he had taken Stewart (who also testified Wednesday) to Keller's home that day and they took the registration from the truck.
Their conversation led to a call to the Orange County Sheriff's Department, where a request was made for a welfare check at Collier's home.
Orange County Sheriff's Department Detective Denis Lanham testified that he had made the welfare check and had not been able to get an answer when he knocked on Collier's door. He began walking around Collier's farm and found his body, partially under some brush and vegetation.
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