Kelli Sartin looked down and wrote on a piece of paper Tuesday, occasionally looking up as body camera footage from the first police officer on the scene replayed her conversation on Sept. 9, 2019.
The video and other evidence presented at the first day of the 55-year-old’s trial are some of the first looks into the now years-long investigation of the alleged murder of her 81-year-old father.
According to testimony, the police officer received a call for a welfare check at Charles Sartin’s Tremont Street home in Sabine Pass. Kelli Sartin told police that her father was acting like a “mad man” and had committed suicide by beating himself with a rolling pin and spatula.
“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’” Kelli Sartin said on the video played in Judge Raquel West’s 252nd District Courtroom.
Prompted by Prosecutor Phillip Smith during questioning, the officer said the case didn’t appear to point to suicide.
“Have you ever heard of someone beating themselves to death?” Smith asked.
The video showed Kelli Sartin talking to the police officer for several minutes, showing him a rolling pin in a shed outside the home and bringing him where her father’s body laid wrapped in a tarp and bedding on a new mattress.
The officer claimed he could smell the decaying body, which was later determined to have been in the home for five days, while he was still outside.
“It was something you never forget,” the officer said in court.
Throughout the video, testimony and conversation with the attorneys, the officer said that he could not see the body until Kelli Sartin moved a clothing rack and duct tape that sealed the door to the bedroom. She claimed to the officer to be a “clean freak” or “germaphobe” to explain why she had cleaned the house and moved the body before his arrival.
Defending Kelli Sartin, Criminal Law Attorney Thomas Burbank questioned the officer’s recollection of the events and asked if he knew anything about the family or Charles Sartin.
Charles Sartin had a medical condition that caused him to seek services from Spindletop MHMR, Burbank said.
Port Arthur Police Detective Tomas Barboza also testified Tuesday, supplementing his interview with Kelli Sartin at the police station, which was also played in court.
Barboza, a 12-year veteran with PAPD, did not personally witness the crime scene.
He told the judge and jury that Kelli Sartin did not seem like she was grieving, which made him question her story.
“It just didn’t make sense at all,” Barboza said.
A live stream of the trial had some audio issues. However, at times Kelli Sartin could be heard on the video saying that she is “terrified of germs” and was “in shock.” She tells the detective that she got hit trying to take the objects from her father.
Barboza said there were three calls for welfare checks leading up to police discovering his body. One of the calls was from a relative who said she and several other citizens were concerned about Charles Sartin after they were unable to reach his daughter, whose phone was found in his grandson’s car.
“We have no idea if she is gone or not,” the relative could be heard saying on the recording.
An officer stopped by the house, where there was no answer. Later that day, Kelli Sartin called from a convenience store and told the officer that she did not have a phone but her father was O.K. — only a few days before his body was discovered by police.
“… Anyways, he’s fine,” she said on the afternoon of Sept. 5, 2019.
The interview with Kelli Sartin and the detective lasted for about three hours.
By late afternoon, the defense confirmed with Barboza that Kelli Sartin told officers in her interview at the station she and her father had a rocky relationship; he had made threats to kill himself and her; she “panicked” and felt “afraid;” and even the detective had mentioned it didn’t make sense why she didn’t report it sooner.
According to previous reporting from The Enterprise, during a later interview with police, Kelli Sartin admitted to hitting her father with her fist, a spatula and a rolling pin. She was indicted last year and sent to the Jefferson County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond.
The jail currently has a historic population with more than 1,000 inmates in part as a result of backlogged court cases. In catching up on the backlog, criminal cases are taking priority.
Written by Meagan Ellsworth