Dontae Callen was sentenced to death and remains on Alabama Death Row for a triple murder. According to court documents Dontae Callen would murder Bernice Kelly, 59, and his cousins Quortes Kelly, 33, and Aaliyah Budgess, 12 and then would set the residence on fire. Dontae Callen would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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The State’s evidence tended to show that around 4:00 a.m. on the morning of October 29, 2010, emergency personnel were dispatched to Bernice Kelly’s apartment in response to a 911-emergency telephone call that there was a fire in her apartment. Lt. Warren Calvert, a member of the Birmingham Fire Department, testified that his unit was the first on the scene and that he observed smoke coming from one of the apartments on the lower level. He went to the apartment, he said, and tried to open the front door, but it was blocked. (R. 442.) Lt. Calvert said that he pulled an unconscious woman’s body from behind the door and was then able to enter and search the apartment because, he said, people were yelling that more people were in the apartment. He found another body, a young female, in the bathroom, and he took her out of the apartment. At that time, Lt. Calvert said, another firefighter yelled at him to stop because he was covered in blood. He further testified that a third body, a male, was also recovered from the apartment. After they discovered that the victims were covered in blood, Lt. Calvert said, they called the police department. Lt. Fitzgerald Mosely, a fire investigator with the City of Birmingham, testified that he investigated the fire, that the fire was not accidental, and that it had multiple points of origin. He further testified that when the firemen arrived Bernice’s body was on fire and they had to extinguish that fire to remove her body. Bernice was still alive and was taken to a local hospital where she died later that day.
Dr. Gary Simmons, a forensic pathologist with the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office, testified that Bernice Kelly had been stabbed 18 times in her upper body and died of multiple sharp-force trauma; Quortes Kelly had been stabbed 33 times in his upper body and died of multiple sharp-force trauma; and Aaliyah Budgess had been stabbed 25 times to her neck and head and died of multiple sharp-force trauma. None of the three victims had carbon monoxide in their lungs.
Lisa Brown — Bernice’s daughter and Quortes’s sister — testified that Bernice was Callen’s great aunt and that Quortes and Aaliyah were Callen’s cousins. Brown said that Aaliyah lived with Bernice so that she could go to a private school in the area and that Quortes also lived with Bernice. Faye Budgess, Bernice’s sister, testified that on the evening of October 28, 2010, she was with Quortes, Callen, and Aaliyah at a neighbor’s house watching television. She said that Quortes, Callen, and Aaliyah left at about 10:00 p.m. to return to Bernice’s apartment. Budgess said that Callen had lived with Bernice until several months before the murders.
Det. Warren Cotton, an investigator with the Birmingham Police Department, testified that he investigated the triple homicide and first came into contact with Callen at the hospital. Callen was nervous, Det. Cotton said, and had cuts on his body and a red substance in one of his ears. Det. Cotton requested that Callen be transported to the police station. At the police station, Det. Cotton said, Callen confessed that he stabbed all three victims, that he lit some clothes on fire with a lighter, and that when the fire started “getting big” he left the apartment through the back door. He said that Quortes was in a bedroom, his Aunt Bernice was near the front door, and Aaliyah was by the bathroom. Callen said that he threw the knife away down the street from the apartment.
Officer Roxanne Murry, an evidence technician with the Birmingham Police Department, testified that she collected various items from the scene and near the scene of the triple homicide. Officer Murry said that in a sewer about one block from the triple homicide she collected two knives, a sandal, red-soaked clothes, and red-stained mittens.
Nathan Rhea, a forensic scientist with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, testified that he performed DNA testing on the red substance collected from one of Callen’s ears and the items collected from the scene of the crime and from Callen’s residence. Rhea testified that the substance in Callen’s ear was blood and that it contained a mixture of Quortes’s blood and Callen’s blood. Rhea further testified that each of the three victims could have contributed to the blood discovered on one of the knives recovered in a sewer near the crime scene. Also, clothes taken from Callen’s residence contained blood that matched Quortes’s blood.
In his defense, Callen presented the testimony of Beatrice Brown, Callen’s grandmother. Brown testified that several months before the triple homicide Bernice told her that she could no longer financially support Callen and Callen moved in with her, her daughter, and her daughter’s children. Brown also testified that Quortes often drank and had not worked in several years before his death.
The jury convicted Callen of the three counts charged in the indictment. A separate sentencing hearing was held and the jury recommended, by a vote of 11 to 1, that Callen be sentenced to death. A presentence report was prepared, and a separate sentencing hearing was held before the circuit court. After weighing the aggravating circumstances and the mitigating circumstances, the circuit court followed the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Callen to death