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State won't seek death penalty in nurse's killing

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NASHVILLE — The murder trial of a Nash County man accused of killing his wife, a Wilson Medical Center nurse, most likely won’t begin until next year.

Lynn Rex Keel, 57, faces life in prison in the brutal March 2019 stabbing death of his 38-year-old wife, Diana Alejandra Keel.

Prosecutors announced during a recent hearing that the state won’t seek the death penalty. In North Carolina, the only two allowable punishments for first-degree murder are death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Nash County Senior Superior Court Judge Quentin Sumner moved the trial to Pitt County due to the amount of news coverage in Nash County.

The successful change of venue request filed by public defender Matthew Geoffrion is but one motion in a blizzard of paperwork.

Geoffrion asked that the trial be postponed. The lawyer said in his motion that a potential jury forced to deliberate in close quarters during the coronavirus pandemic might blame his client. Courts have canceled and rescheduled trials and hearings for months, so Geoffrion may get his wish even without the judge’s approval.

Geoffrion also asked for a pretrial hearing to determine how many of the 200 photos and a video of Diana Keel’s mutilated and decomposed body should be shown to the jury given the images’ inflammatory nature.

Diana Keel died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries and stab wounds to her neck area consistent with chopping motions that left her head nearly severed, according to her autopsy.

Geoffrion asked the trial judge to suppress the fact that his client is indigent and needs court-appointed legal representation, meaning the jury wouldn’t learn that detail. 

Geoffrion filed a motion to suppress statements from an unidentified witness who saw a man and woman arguing on the Keels’ porch the morning Diana Keel vanished because the witness couldn’t provide a detailed description of the man authorities say was Lynn Keel.

Geoffrion also wants the trial judge to bar any mention of Lynn Keel’s first wife. Investigators continue to look into the death of Elizabeth Bess Edwards Keel, 42, who died of head trauma in 2006. Lynn Keel said she fell down a set of steps and hit her forehead. The fatal incident occurred at the same Old County Home Road house near Momeyer where Lynn and Diana Keel lived when Lynn Keel reported his second wife missing in early 2019.

A few days after Lynn Keel filed the missing person report, state transportation workers stumbled upon Diana Keel’s body along a rural road in Edgecombe County.

Lynn Keel fled Nash County as Lt. Jeff Sherrod, a detective with the Nash County Sheriff’s Office, began to focus his investigation on him. Authorities caught up to Lynn Keel several days later in Arizona within 35 miles of the Mexico border. 

Lynn Keel is familiar with Central and South America, having traveled to countries in those regions many times on business trips. 

He married Diana, known as Ali to her friends, less than a year after his first wife died, bringing Diana to Nash County from Latin America. Lynn and Diana Keel have a young child.

Nash County authorities extradited Lynn Keel back to North Carolina in late March 2019. He’s being held in pretrial confinement at Central Prison in Raleigh. Bail isn’t allowed in first-degree murder cases.

Lynn Keel entered a not-guilty plea during his arraignment. A Nash County grand jury indicted him on a charge of first-degree murder in October. 

Geoffrion didn’t return a message left at his office in time for this story.