Of all the strange twists in the first-degree murder trial of Monique Lee for the slaying of her landlord, this one might be the most bizarre — and potentially destructive to prosecutors' case.
Gary Lee took the stand in the retrial of his sister and gave a vastly different account from his testimony at her first trial.
In his original account, Lee testified that he held Omaha businesswoman Karen Jenkins' legs while Monique strangled her with a vacuum cleaner cord.
That account seemed to line up with Monique Lee's own statements in a phone call with her sister and in sessions with a psychiatrist in which she said she had strangled Jenkins with the cord.
But in testimony this week, Gary Lee claimed that his sister had gotten into a skirmish with Jenkins in which she punched Jenkins. Gary Lee said he then strangled Jenkins with the vacuum cleaner cord — and bashed her head into the floor to kill her.
Gary Lee even demonstrated how he purportedly slammed Jenkins' head.
The turnabout stunned the prosecution, defense and even Gary Lee's own attorney.
And it led Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine and Chief Deputy Brenda Beadle to move for a mistrial, a motion rarely made by prosecutors.
District Judge James Gleason dismissed the jury for the weekend and is expected to rule on that motion Monday morning. The judge had granted a motion for a mistrial in May after ruling that a prosecution witness provided surprise testimony.
Longtime courthouse observers said they had never seen such an abrupt about-face from a witness.
Gary Lee — who has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and weapon use — had gone over his testimony at the Douglas County Attorney's Office and given no indication of any change in his accounts just a few hours before he took the stand.
After he left the office, according to sheriff's deputies, Gary Lee mentioned he had some “tricks” up his sleeve.
Taking the stand, he stunned court officials with his new version. Not only did he say he killed Jenkins, he claimed he stuffed tissue in her mouth and glued her nostrils shut — actions he had previously attributed to his sister.
Gleason dismissed the jury. Kleine then tried to further question Gary Lee, but he refused to answer.
The question is how Gleason will resolve the matter. The judge could declare another mistrial, or he could make prosecutors carry on with the rest of their case.
In court, Public Defender Tom Riley, Monique's attorney, acknowledged that prosecutors had no idea Gary Lee would change his story. However, Riley argued, that was the risk prosecutors run when they put co-defendants on the stand.
Kleine countered that prosecutors have little recourse to address Gary Lee's new version because of his refusal to answer further questions.
Gary Lee's testimony is just the latest oddity in the two-year-old case. Authorities allege Monique and Gary Lee killed Jenkins — a businesswoman and college instructor — because Monique was upset that Jenkins was evicting her from her apartment near 40th Street and Ames Avenue.
Shortly after his arrest, Gary Lee told reporters he had held Jenkins' legs while his sister killed her.
In Monique's first trial, he got choked up as he described his and his sister's actions in luring Jenkins to the apartment and killing her. He echoed the story Monique had told their sister — that the reason she had to kill Jenkins was because a mystery man named “Black” ordered her to.
Gary Lee also denied stealing belongings from Jenkins' purse, though one of her credit cards was found near the house of his girlfriend. He also claimed in the first trial that Monique had molested him when she was a teenager and he was a young boy.
Whatever it does to his sister's case, Gary Lee's latest version may not bode well for his own fate. He already and faces 25 years to life in prison.
Monique Lee, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors acknowledged that she suffered from mental illness but argue that she knew the difference between right and wrong.
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Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Gary Lee invoked the Fifth Amendment.