Trial begins for Mitchell Brothers heir suspected of murdering estranged girlfriend 

A prosecutor told a Marin County jury this morning that James Raphael Mitchell killed his estranged girlfriend by beating her to death with a baseball bat outside her Novato home as she held their 1-year-old daughter. Mitchell, 29, of Pittsburg, is the son of adult filmmaker Jim Mitchell, of Mitchell Brothers fame.

Danielle Keller, 29, was murdered the evening of July 12, 2009, her daughter’s first birthday.

Deputy district attorneys Leon Kousharian and Charles Cacciatore began their case against Mitchell today by playing a recording of a 911 call to Novato police that came in around 7 p.m. that day.

A neighbor tells the police dispatcher her husband came to Keller’s aid, but that Keller had severe head injuries and was already dead. She told the dispatcher the attacker had fled with the child.

He is charged with murder, kidnapping, child abduction, child endangerment, stalking, and murder during a kidnapping.

Mitchell’s attorney, Stuart Hanlon, told the jury his client did not go to Keller’s house at 3 Diablo Court intending to kill her or to kidnap their daughter.

“He was there and he will explain what happened. There is no anger. He was just begging for her to love him and let him see the baby on her birthday. There was no intent to kill,” Hanlon said.

Mitchell surrendered to police in Citrus Heights when his car ran out of gas, Kousharian said.

Dots of Keller’s blood were found on the little girl’s face, Kousharian said.

“She was under or near her mom when she was beaten,” Kousharian said.

DNA tests determined that blood splatters found on Mitchell’s pants and shoes were Keller’s, and that a bloody bat found two feet from Keller’s body had a fingerprint from Mitchell’s left index finger, Kousharian said.

Kousharian told the jury there were two restraining orders against Mitchell, one in San Francisco and one in Marin, prohibiting him from coming within 100 yards of Keller, who had custody of the child.

Mitchell had previously violated the restraining orders on June 26, 2009, Kousharian said.

The trial is taking place before Marin County Superior Court Judge Kelly Simmons.

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