Death deepens Monroe mystery
Some doubt potential witness in Miller slaying hanged himself
SWEETWATER, Tenn. - On Sept. 15, John Woodruff and Lyle Massey discovered the body of Shawn Michael Corn, hanging from a tree in a wooded area on Woodruff's cattle farm.
The two had stumbled into a mystery within the mystery of the Jim Miller homicide case.
Miller, 60, a prominent Monroe County farmer and businessman who chaired the county's election commission, was shot to death and his body torched July 17.
Corn, 33, was a subcontractor, laborer, father of two. And he was a potential witness in the case against the only person charged so far with Miller's murder: Jessica Kennedy.
Corn also was a cousin to Kennedy's former stepfather, Jeff Sturgill.
According to Corn's mother, Mary Bailey, detectives had planned to talk to him about the Miller killing.
"One of the detectives on Shawn's case told me that," Bailey said. "He said they were just getting ready to talk to him."
Corn was widely described as a reliable, sober and hard-working man who was highly unlikely to have been involved in anything like the death of Miller.
"He was one of the best workers I ever had," said Mike Dodd, for whose construction firm Corn had worked. "All of this, it's just shocking."
Corn's death has been tentatively ruled a suicide. A final conclusion will not be made until the autopsy report is complete, Sheriff Bill Bivens said.
"Based on all of the circumstances, and all of the information we have, (it appears to be) suicide," Bivens said. "There is no indication of foul play."
Many in Corn's family and some of his friends doubt he killed himself, even though they acknowledge he was depressed over the collapse of his marriage. And they feel certain that he was not involved in Miller's death.
Did Corn even know investigators wanted to talk to him about the Miller case?
"If he did, he never mentioned it," said his widow, Misty Corn. Bailey and other family members said the same thing.
A brother, Garrett Corn, who was on the witness list of the grand jury that indicted Kennedy on Jan. 15, did not return messages requesting an interview.
'Part of the investigation'
Miller was shot three times in the head, and his body stuffed into the trunk of his car. The car was set on fire. Miller was burned beyond recognition.
The car was found off Sanders Road, an area about one mile from where Kennedy's family says she periodically lived with Brandon Steele, 32.
Miller was a large, strong man. Kennedy, a drug user, is 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds. Many doubt she could have carried out the crime alone.
Investigators won't say if Shawn Corn was considered a suspect, a "person of interest," or just someone they thought might know something because he was related to Kennedy.
"All I can say is that he was part of the investigation," said Assistant Attorney General Jim Stutts, who is handling the case against Kennedy.
Suicide or not, Corn's death has added to rampant rumors about Miller's killing. One of those stories alludes to a "second suspect" who is now deceased.
"I just don't see Shawn being involved in anything like (Miller's murder)" said Woodruff, for whom Shawn Corn had worked. "I remember one time I let him shoot a gun down here. It liked to scared him to death. He actually shook."
Melissa Corn said her older brother could have been unwittingly pulled into something without being told all of the circumstances, especially if someone he knew asked for help.
"If (Jessica Kennedy) had called and asked if he would come over and help her with something or other, he would come a-running," she said. "That's just the kind of guy he was."
"Shawn was really a good man," Misty Corn said. "I don't believe he was (involved in Miller's death). And I know he couldn't have hung himself, because of his (recurring) shoulder (injury). One time he was over here talking about us working things out, he couldn't even pick up Zachary," his 7-year-old son.
Other reasons the Corn family doubts that he meant to kill himself: He adored his children, and he had plans to go to Arizona for a better paying job. He had sold his truck and tools to raise money for the trip, they said.
Woodruff said Shawn Corn's death scene looked odd to him.
Corn was hanging by an extension cord that had been tied around a very tall elm tree, then strung over a smaller tree. Corn, who had been dead for several days, was slumped below the smaller tree, in a kneeling position but with his knees drawn up and not touching the ground.
Woodruff said he does not see how Corn, with his bad shoulder injury, could have climbed to the spot on the elm tree where the cord was tied, or reached that spot alone without a ladder.
There were several beer bottles scattered around. Woodruff said he does not think police took any to be fingerprinted. "Later on, after a tow truck came and pulled Shawn's car out of there, I just went back and gathered them all up," he said.
Sturgill feels his cousin did take his own life.
"About two or three weeks before, he'd said he was going to hang himself over his wife and kids," Sturgill said. "He was really bad depressed."
Sturgill said Corn had sought psychiatric help but stopped taking medicine he had been prescribed.
Sturgill does not believe that either Kennedy or Corn was involved in Miller's death.
Authorities are mum about any suspects or potential suspects other than Kennedy, alive or dead.
"But I can tell you that this investigation is not over," said Stutts' boss, 10th District Attorney General Steve Bebb. "It is far from over."
Jim Miller's daughter, Mechelle Miller, said she wishes that the speculation and rumors would stop, and that everyone would let law enforcement continue to do its work.
"We wouldn't tell a surgeon how to do the surgery, so let's not tell the investigators how to investigate," she said.