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Hartselle Enquirer
Little River Canyon, where Jessie Eden Kelly and Loretta Kay Carr allegedly pushed Hartselle resident Mary Elizabeth Isbell off a cliff, killing her, in 2021. [NATIONAL PARK SERVICE PHOTO] 

Woman accused of pushing Hartselle woman off cliff writes letter to judge 

By David Gambino  

For the Enquirer  

A Fort Payne woman charged with capital murder for allegedly kidnapping a Hartselle woman and pushing her off a cliff in 2021 submitted character reference letters, along with one she personally wrote, to a Dekalb County judge this past week. 

Jessie Eden Kelly, 22, is accused of killing Mary Elizabeth Isbell, a Hartselle woman who disappeared in 2021. Kelly remained in Cherokee County Jail with no bond on Thursday. 

Kelly
Isbell

Loretta Kay Carr, 45 — Kelly’s mother — is also charged with capital murder in Isbell’s death. She remained in Dekalb County Jail with no bond on Thursday. According to the Dekalb County Sheriff’s Office, the pair are deliberately being held in separate locations ahead of trial. 

Carr

“I ask that the court to please take these letters in consideration on my behalf of who I am, rather than just what I’m being portrayed in black and white,” Kelly wrote in a letter to a judge dated Feb. 7. 

At the time of her mother’s arrest in June, Kelly was in custody in Pennsylvania awaiting extradition to Missouri on a felony theft charge, according to a Dekalb County sheriff’s spokesperson. She was extradited to Alabama in July. 

Eight letters in support of Kelly, all apparently from fellow incarcerated women, were also filed in Dekalb County District Court on Tuesday. 

“She is really a bright, well-meaning and intelligent young woman who I feel could be easily taken advantage of due to her sweet nature and trusting spirit,” wrote one woman, who said she shared a cell with Kelly in Cherokee County Jail. 

Another Cherokee County inmate wrote that she was bunkmates with Kelly for four months. She described Kelly as a “kind-hearted child of God.” 

Several of the letters describe Kelly as “naïve” and “innocent.” 

“I don’t think she completely grasps how serious her situation is,” another woman wrote. 

A multi-agency search team discovered Isbell’s remains in Little River Canyon National Preserve in late June, around what would have been her 39th birthday. Her ex-husband had reported her missing almost two years earlier. 

At the time of the report, Hartselle police were able to determine Isbell was in DeKalb County based on phone records, according to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies said a search warrant of Isbell’s DeKalb County residence showed signs of a struggle. 

Months later, a credible tip, witness statements, and one of the defendant’s statements led investigators to charge Carr and Kelly in Isbell’s death, according to DeKalb County Chief Investigator Nick Brown. 

“One of the co-defendants was very cooperative and helped lead us to Mary’s remains,” Brown said. The suspects and the victim were acquaintances via “a boyfriend,” according to Brown. 

An investigator’s affidavit filed in DeKalb County District Court alleges Carr and Kelly caused the death of Isbell on or around Oct. 18, 2021. 

They did so “by pushing her off a cliff” and “during her abduction or attempt to abduct,” according to the affidavit. 

Brown, who said Isbell’s cause of death appeared to be a result of being thrown from the cliff, said it’s one of the most “heinous” cases of his career. 

Little River Canyon National Preserve sits atop Lookout Mountain and covers around 15,000 acres near Fort Payne. 

“Thank you so kindly for your time, your honor,” Kelly wrote. “I highly appreciate it.” 

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