Shani Kilpatrick is happy with the life sentence James David “J.D.” Clarke received for murdering her daughter, Amber Chantel Elkins, although she would like to have seen him get the death penalty.
Sitting through the trial is the hardest thing Shani has ever done. Her daughter Amber was a loving, kindhearted person who refused to see bad in anyone.
“She was a beautiful, fun-loving girl that got caught up with the wrong crowd, including J.D.,” Shani said.
Amber and J. D. Clarke started dating about a month prior to her murder and Shani only met him once before he murdered her daughter.
Clarke didn’t express an inkling of remorse as he sat in the courtroom on trial for Amber’s murder. In fact, he seemed to take pleasure in the additional pain the trial caused, looking over at her mother from time to time and smiling as tears streaked down her face. Shani can’t comprehend his cold-heartedness. He has three children of his own, she said.
In her Victim’s Statement, Shani read her daughter’s killer a poem, “The Dash” by Linda Ellis. “Because his dash doesn’t mean nothing, Amber’s life meant a lot to everybody. Nobody was here for him. He means nothing,” she said. “Amber and all that knew her would be proud of her dash because she had care and compassion for everyone, even J. D.”
The day after Amber disappeared she was supposed to appear in court to complete paperwork pertaining to custody hearings concerning her 9-month-old daughter. Shani knew something was terribly wrong when she discovered a missed call from Amber at 3:30 a.m. Amber “just didn’t” call her mother at that time of night, she said.
When Shani tried to return the call, Clarke answered but hung up when she asked, “Where’s Amber?”
Later that day she received a text she then believed was from Amber, but now she knows it was Clarke texting her, pretending to be Amber. By the time Shani received the text, Clarke had already shot and killed her daughter and dumped her body.
Shani feared something bad had happened when her calls went unanswered. When Amber’s dark green Chevrolet TrailBlazer was found, her mother intuitively knew she was dead. “Amber didn’t leave her car anywhere”, she said.
Shani knew it was J. D. that had murdered her daughter the instant she heard she was dead.
At approximately 2:PM, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, Harris County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report abandoned vehicle at an abandoned car wash in the 13900 block of Homestead Rd. The vehicle had been there for two days. A local business owner spotted the vehicle Monday but wasn’t concerned because he thought it probably belonged to someone that was fishing in Greens Bayou.
When the man returned on Tuesday, the vehicle was still there. As he approached, he could see the front passenger window was broken out. As drew closer and saw the amount of blood inside the vehicle, he dialed 911.
When deputies arrived on the scene, they found the dark green 2004 Chevrolet TrailBlazer bearing Georgia license plates abandoned in the parking lot. Upon inspecting the vehicle, deputies discovered a substantial amount of blood inside the vehicle. Investigators from Harris County Homicide were called.
At first, it was believed to be just an abandoned vehicle with a large amount of blood inside. Mario Quintanilla’s supervisor contacted him and they looked at the vehicle and assessed the scene to determine if there had been any type of foul play involved. They determined, due to a large amount of blood, something bad had happened. Either the person had gone straight to a hospital or was probably dead.
When Mario ran the license plate, it came back as registered to Amber Elkins, who still had a Georgia address. Documents inside the vehicle yielded names and addresses, and when contacted, Quintanilla learned Amber Elkins was living in the Houston area, and her mother lived nearby.
Homicide investigators spoke with Amber Elkins’ family and learned she was last seen on Sunday evening, July 24, 2011 and no one had since heard from her. The family had not reported her missing, but was concerned because she usually called her mother at least once a day, if not several times.
They also learned Elkins was dating J. D. Clarke. Mario Quintanilla obtained Clarke’s cell phone number and address and began investigating him.
It is believed Clarke shot Elkins somewhere else and placed her in his red pickup truck, which he then used to dump her body and before dropping off the vehicle at the abandoned carwash. Clarke never admitted the red truck was his, or that Elkins had ever been in it. Witnesses said that the two were usually in Elkins’ vehicle, with Clarke driving.
In an attempt to locate Elkins’ body, investigators began researching cell phone records which revealed where calls had been made. The FBI was called in to assist with the search. Quintanilla said the FBI has always been a great help to the Harris County Homicide Division.
FBI agents were able to track Elkins’ phone movements. One location was in the middle of nowhere, on Gene Campbell Blvd. in East Montgomery County. Equusearch was sent to the area along with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. They spent several hours searching the area and on Sunday, July 31, 2011, and around 3:30 p.m. Amber Chantel Elkins’ body was found.
James David “J.D.” Clarke was arrested and charged with her murder.
The mother of Clarke’s children lives in the general area where Amber’s body was dumped. She immediately came forward when she heard the news. The times she had spoken with Clarke matched the times on Elkins’ cell phone records.
Clarke told her everything. He said he had shot and killed Elkins, and then dumped her body. He said he was delusional at the time, and Elkins’ face kept turning into someone else’s.
That’s why he killed her, he said.
Clarke never fully confessed. When he was finally apprehended and brought in for questioning, he lied until physical evidence was presented to him. Clarke’s story changed when he was confronted with the evidence.
The first story Clarke gave homicide investigators said he had not seen Elkins in about a week. He claimed he hadn’t been in possession of his cell phone in about two weeks and that he hadn’t driven Elkins’ vehicle. A tremendous amount of evidence was collected during the investigation including video surveillance, witnesses placing Clarke and Elkins in certain locations, and cell phone records. This story he told was disproven by witness accounts and physical evidence.
Clarke lived in the Homestead Road area near the abandoned car wash where Elkins’ SUV was found. Quintanilla believes someone may have assisted him with dumping the body and dropping off the vehicle, although he could have walked home after parking the vehicle and leaving it.
Jim Prewitt, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney, said the defendant shot and killed his girlfriend in Harris County and then dumped her body in Montgomery County. Harris County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case and Montgomery County was called to the scene where the body was found.
Texas law allows a case to be prosecuted either in the county where it occurred or the county where the body is found. Montgomery County presented the case to the Grand Jury, which indicted J.D. Clarke, and the county proceeded to trial.
“We are pleased with the verdict”, Prewitt said. “I think the jury sent a signal that this type of violent behavior and violent conduct in Montgomery County is not going to be tolerated. The jury spent a long time hearing some pretty detailed forensic evidence as well as a statement from various parties in the case and I was very pleased with the fact they used their common sense in reaching this verdict and giving him a life sentence”
The jury began deliberations just after 11 a.m. Friday morning. Within 30 minutes they rendered a guilty verdict. When asked if he was surprised at how long it took the jury to reach a verdict Prewitt replied, “You’re always surprised when it’s a quick verdict. However, when you look at the evidence I think it’s understandable. The evidence collected by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and other officers that helped with this case was pretty overwhelming.”
As for the sentence, Prewitt said “The life sentence was very well deserved given the type of conduct—the murder, the callous disregard for the life he exhibited with Amber Elkins’ life. Also, when you look at his extensive habitual criminal history of violence involving drugs and robbery. He is a member of a gang, the Houstones, the Tango Blast Prison Gang. He’s the type of individual our prisons were made for and that we don’t really need in our communities.”
“It’s a good day for us”, Mario Quintanilla said. “We know we did a good job. We believe the jury did the right thing. Unfortunately, you can’t give him more than life. You can’t bring Amber back. It didn’t bring Shani’s daughter back.”
Quintanilla feels that is the worst part of being a homicide investigator. “You can never return a loved one to them.”
He is already working on another murder case, but said, “It’s days like this that you want to go to work.