Harmel followed Kalaher to her vehicle and got inside, Duty said, where he took her to an ATM and demanded she withdraw money from her bank account. In the early afternoon, police found Kalaher’s body in her parked car, which was located in a strip center across from Walmart, she said.
In September 2009, the Cedar Park Police Department requested information from the public on Kalaher, but the case remained unsolved.
Duty said the case came to her attention when a county victim coordinator requested she contend Harmel’s parole for another unrelated conviction. Harmel was convicted in 2010 for credit card abuse and tampering with evidence in which he pleaded guilty and agreed to a maximum sentence.
“I started to review the case and thought how interesting it was that we were protesting someone’s parole on a tampering case when a young woman was killed,” Duty said.
Having Harmel agree to the maximum sentence seemed odd, Duty said, which she surmised related to Harmel’s guilt in Kalaher’s slaying.
“I believe that he thought at the time that if he took the maximum sentence we would all just call it even, and this case wouldn’t be pursued,” Duty said.
The county’s medical examiner ruled Kalaher’s death as strangulation, though Duty said Kalaher did not die immediately from the assault. The case file noted that she survived between nine to 12 hours after the assault took place.
“One witness actually saw her at one point standing outside of her car,” Duty said.
The evidence led Duty to contact Dr. Dean Hawley, a forensic pathologist and leading researcher on strangulation. Duty said after sending Hawley the autopsy report and crime scene photos, he concluded it was a “textbook case” of delayed death due to strangulation.
“He just was very, very clear that this was a clear-cut case, and that he was willing to testify in trial to explain to a jury exactly how Jessica died,” Duty said.
According to an obituary that ran in the Austin American-Statesman, Kalaher was born in Austin and graduated from Pflugerville High School. She received a bachelor’s degree from Texas State University in 2007. She worked as a substitute teacher and manager at an H-E-B grocery store while awaiting a permanent teaching position.