After 14 years of marriage, Jeffrey and Kathleen West’s relationship appeared to be rock-solid.
The couple, who met in 2004 and tied the knot in Las Vegas the same year, had matching tattoos on their wrists that read “4life” and they would sign off messages to each other with “12345”, which meant “I love you for life”, or “123”, meaning “I love you”.
Jeff had served in the US army for 21 years and was now working as a security guard on a college campus.
Kathleen, who was known as Kat, was a stay-at-home mum to their 12-year-old daughter – but she was also building a career as an online adult model.
In January 2018, the 42-year-old was recovering from breast implant surgery that she hoped would boost figures on her already successful pay-per-view channel.
The blonde would post sexy snaps on her social media to direct fans to her adult site, where for $15.99 a month they could see more revealing images.
Jeff knew exactly what Kat was doing – and would often take the photos.
On 12 January, the couple went out on a date night, enjoying a meal at a seafood restaurant and then visiting a sports bar.
On the way home, they stopped to pick up a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey and a bottle of Lucid Absinthe. CCTV captured them at 9pm, both looking happy.
After more drinks back at their house in Calera, Alabama, Jeff took some photos of Kat wearing a pink sports bra, multicoloured knickers and pink stilettos. Then, at around 5am the next day, a neighbour who was leaving home for work found Kat’s body in the street.
She was lying face down in the gutter wearing just her pink sports bra – and she had suffered a serious head injury.
There was a trail of blood down the road and her mobile was lying on the ground, along with the absinthe bottle. Witnesses would later say the scene looked odd, as though staged.
As police arrived, Jeff came out and reacted to his wife’s death with horror. He said they were drinking until 10.30pm, when he went to bed because he had work the next day.
Kat had stayed up drinking, he claimed, and their dogs woke him up at 5.15am by barking at police when they arrived. Asked what he thought had happened, he said Kat must have fallen.
He told them she would often go outside when drunk to bounce on trampolines or dance, and she must have stumbled or been hit by a car.
Kat’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal driving limit – and it had probably been higher at the time of her death. But there were unexplained elements to her death that aroused suspicion.
Police found items inside the house, including a white tank top in the bedroom and a towel, which tested positive for blood. The absinthe bottle also had blood on it.
Knowing about Kat’s adult work, officers asked Jeff whether it was ever a problem between them – which he denied. “I’m not jealous of it,” he said. “They’re just pictures. She got money for it.”
But the police found heated messages the couple had exchanged over the previous weeks.
Jeff continued to deny there had been any tension, insisting, “Last night was actually a really good night. Everything was going good.”
Eventually, he admitted there was some strain due to her drinking – and because Kat had a higher sex drive than him, wanting sex four to five times a week.
“I’m not as sexual as she is,” he told police. “It is what it is. I’m happy with myself. She wasn’t happy with it.”
Tests on the absinthe bottle revealed Jeff’s fingerprints, which was no surprise – but the position the prints were in was incriminating. The marks from his left thumb and left ring finger were in an inverted position – indicating that the bottle was held upside down and by its neck rather than its base.
Why hold a bottle like that unless wielding it as a weapon?
However, it was the data collected from the health apps on Kat and Jeff’s phones that proved even more revealing. Kat’s phone showed her last steps were made at 10.54pm – and while Jeff had told investigators he was asleep at 10.30pm, his data showed that he had been walking around at about 11pm.
Jeff was arrested and charged with murder, and remanded in custody for three years.
At one point, he was offered a plea deal – if he admitted his guilt, he would be released immediately for time served. He refused the deal. At his trial in 2020, the prosecution said Jeff had hit his wife over the head with the absinthe bottle, then arranged the scene.
The court heard that Jeff had crime scene investigator training and would know what was needed to make it look like an accident.
A medical expert said Kat’s head injury was too severe to have been caused by a fall. She was only 5ft 2in, so not tall enough for so great a tumble.
The injury was also two inches long and the skin had split open. The force had pushed her brain down to the stem – causing a brain bleed and death.
“It was a considerable amount of force to cause an injury like that,” the doctor said, adding that Kat must have bled very heavily.
On the issue of the motive, the prosecution said they had rowed over Kat’s adult posts after boozing. “He is fed up with this stuff,” the prosecutor surmised. “He grabs her phone and chucks it out the door, where it lands in the street.”
The prosecutor suggested that as Kat went outside to get her phone, Jeff followed with the absinthe bottle.
“This marriage was not in a good place,” he added, saying it was a relationship “on the rocks”. Jeff’s defence repeated his claim that he fell asleep and Kat continued drinking before heading outside.
“She fell and hit her head,” they said. “There’s no murder here.”
They also said there was no tension over her adult work – proven by the fact that Jeff often took the photos.
There was also no blood or DNA on Jeff’s clothes and no hair, scalp or brain tissue on the bottle.
And the defence had Jeff’s mum, Sue, and Kat’s mum, Nancy Martin, testifying for him. Nancy said her daughter was a heavy drinker and confirmed she would often go outside after boozing. She said she supported Jeff and believed Kat’s death was an accident.
Jeff was accused of lacking emotion during the probe – but his lawyer pointed out he had been a soldier and that was how he was trained to react in tough situations.
However, the prosecution showed the tense texts the couple had exchanged ahead of Kat’s death.
Three weeks before she died, she accused Jeff of “throwing away 14 years of marriage”. Another text that was sent around Christmas said, “I’m never doing this holiday again with you.” But it was the data from the health apps that was damning – showing Jeff was moving around when he claimed to be sleeping.
In November 2020, after five hours of deliberation, the jury found Jeff not guilty of murder but guilty of reckless manslaughter.
During the sentencing in February this year, he spoke of what he’d missed out on while he had been in prison but didn’t mention his wife by name.
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“I lost my best friend,” the 47-year-old said, seemingly focused on himself.
Nancy pleaded for leniency and the judge took it into account. But speaking of her support for Jeff, he added, “In my opinion, she’s ignored the evidence.”
The judge took Jeff’s military history and lack of a criminal record into account – but criticised him for not taking accountability for Kat’s death in a plea deal. “The jury had to do that for you,” he said.
Jeff was sentenced to 16 years and will get credit for the three years already served.
His lawyer said there would be an appeal.
While Kat relished her adult work, she had no idea the tensions simmering away beneath the surface of their marriage would boil over so tragically on that date night.