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Somerville man slaying suspect
His nude photos found in victim's Key West home

By Chris Paschenko
DAILY Staff Writer · 340-2442

A murder case in the Florida Keys led authorities to Morgan County, where the suspect’s girlfriend aided in his capture, officials said Tuesday.

Jennifer Long said she was shocked to learn Key West authorities had implicated her boyfriend, Johnny Ray Holt, 24, of Somerville in the March 20 shooting death of former college professor Rodger Frederick Keller.

Morgan County Chief Deputy Mike Corley said the firearm used in the slaying was reported stolen from a Danville home March 17.

Long, 23, said her father owns the home on Liberty Road.

Holt stole jewelry, antique coins, three firearms and the pickup he used to drive to Key West, according to Corley.

“I can’t believe this,” Long said. “We dated for about four months. He didn’t have a temper. He never hit me or nothing.”

Holt is from Murfreesboro, Tenn., Long said. The couple met while working together. Long reported Holt missing to Somerville police March 18, after he had been gone for a day.

Long said she doesn't know of a connection between Holt and Keller, 63, although authorities said they found nude photos of Holt inside Keller's home.

"Everybody struggles," Long said. "We were struggling. Apparently he got paid that day. I don't see why he felt the need to do something this crazy. He had no (substance abuse) problem to my knowledge."

Long said she learned of the slaying Friday.

"The cops called here telling me of the new developments," she said. "He was a nice guy. I thought he was perfect."

Key West police said Holt lived on the island about two years ago and met Keller there. In an affidavit released Tuesday, Key West detective Brenda Sellers said Holt lived with Keller and, when he moved out, allegedly took a house key and forged eight checks totaling $8,700.

Key West police said Keller, on the day of his death, left a garden club where he volunteered.

Witness Michael Sox was walking near Keller's home. He saw the victim arrive in his car, walk into his backyard and then into his home. Sox heard a loud bang, presumably a gunshot. He then rang the doorbell, but no one answered.

Sox, who is homeless, witnessed a man fitting Holt's description leaving the residence in Keller's car. Sox, who knew Keller, told construction workers nearby and a neighbor what he'd heard and seen — blood splattered on the floor of the home — but they refused to help him contact authorities, police said.

Sox walked away from the home and returned early Thursday, finding two newspapers on the ground and Keller's car missing. He called police from a pay phone, and officers found Keller's slightly decomposed body covered with a bedspread in the floor of his master bedroom.

Police found a rug placed over a pool of blood and bloody shoe prints leading to the front door and an intact .44-caliber bullet lodged in the bedroom wall. The medical examiner said Keller was shot in the chin from a distance of no more than two feet and that he died within minutes of the shooting.

Police said they found a file labeled "Johnny Holt" inside the home. The file contained documents to the 2004 theft, phone records and three color photos of Holt nude inside Keller's home.

"One of the photos shows the defendant curled up nude on a bed," the affidavit states. "The bedspread on the floor (in the photos) is the same bedspread that was found covering the victim at the scene."

A Key West Citizen story published March 25 quoted a horticulturist who worked with Keller at The University of Michigan. Corley said Keller was a former professor there.

The report said Keller loved gardening, "had a knack for taking in stray people" and was "an openly gay man" who could be militant about his lifestyle and was not ashamed of how he lived.

Holt allegedly abandoned Keller's car a short distance from the crime scene and used the stolen pickup to travel north to Crisp County, Ga.

Police said they found items stolen in Danville in the truck, along with .44-caliber bullets and one empty casing consistent with he type and caliber found at the scene.

Crisp County authorities arrested Holt at a restaurant, Corley said, after he had sent Long mobile phone text messages and money through a wire transfer. Authorities tracked Holt via his mobile phone communications.

When Key West police asked the Morgan County Sheriff's Department to help find Holt, they discovered he was already in custody in Georgia on burglary and theft charges from Morgan County.

"It just hurts so bad," Long said. "People watch this on television. I was willing to help authorities in this. It was the 100 percent right thing to do."

Holt remained in Georgia without bond with Florida charges of first-degree felony murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm and burglary of a dwelling with a firearm. Corley said the murder charge will take priority over the Morgan County charges.

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