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Liquor Store Video Captures Final Moments of Woman Found Dead on Residential Street
Today, some still defend Jeff West, the man accused of using an absinthe bottle to fatally strike his wife in the head.
The 2018 case of a woman who died during an alcohol-fueled night at home — along with her husband's subsequent arrest — left some loved ones scratching their heads.
Kat West, 42, was described by friends as a “beautiful” and “magnetic” woman who’d moved from Florida to the Alabama suburb of Calera, about 30 miles south of Birmingham. Remembered as the “life of the party,” West had seen rougher times in the Sunshine State in the early 2000s, a period that saw her working as an exotic dancer and in at least one unhealthy relationship, according to family friend Chad Hinson.
Things changed for the better, however, when then-29-year-old Kat met Jeff West in 2004 while both attended a Super Bowl party.
“She just described him as a really sweet guy, and he was the person that she had been waiting for, and the answer to her dreams, and her knight in shining armor,” Hinson told Final Moments, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. “Her life changed.”
Jeff was a U.S. Army recruiter, and soon after he and Kat entered a romantic relationship, Kat gave up her job as an exotic dancer. They married after just four months of dating, and in 2005, they welcomed a daughter into their lives.
By 2014, the Wests moved to Calera, where both had family roots, so the child could be closer to her grandparents. Jeff took up work as a campus police officer at a local college, and Kat continued as a stay-at-home mom who regularly posted on social media.
“It seemed like she was in a really good spot,” Hinson continued. “She was very happy and in the place she always wanted to be.”
On the evening of January 12, 2018, the Wests dropped their daughter off with a grandparent and decided to enjoy a date night out, not knowing it would end in tragedy.
The Peculiar Death of Kat West
The following day, at around 5:00 a.m., a neighbor called 9-1-1 to report finding Kat West’s half-naked body in the street near her residence, according to Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Deputy T.J. Henley. Authorities were quickly dispatched to the scene, where Kat was partly between the road and the grass.
“When [officers] got there, they saw a female body in nothing but a pink bra,” Henley told Final Moments. “There was blood around her, and there was a bottle of absinthe right next to her as well.”
Authorities learned Kat lived just across the street, where the front door remained wide open. Jeff appeared in the doorway and seemed “visibly shaken,” claiming to wake on account of the police sirens, according to Henley.
Meanwhile, Shelby County Coroner Lina Evans was called to the scene. She said she found the positioning of the absinthe bottle atop the victim’s cell phone “odd” but had yet to determine whether foul play was a factor in Kat’s death. Authorities wondered if Kat was possibly hit by a car or perhaps died because of an accidental fall, either of which might have caused the single laceration to her head.
They would have to wait until an autopsy was performed.
Jeff West explained that on the night of Jan. 12, the couple went to dinner and then purchased the alcohol at a local liquor store, finally returning home at around 9:00 p.m. He took photos of their night in and posted them on social media, including a shot of their bottle of absinthe. Jeff told authorities he retired for the evening at 10:30 p.m. on account of leg pain (due to a previous injury from his time in the military), though he believed his wife continued to party by herself.
Though his memory was hazy from alcohol, Jeff recalled that at one point, he grew “aggravated” by Kat constantly looking at her phone, according to Henley. He wound up throwing her phone outside just before he went to bed.
Details of a postmortem examination and Kat West’s Final Moments
A postmortem examination was completed on Jan. 14, 2018, ruling that Kat West died from blunt force trauma. According to Coroner Evans, the two-inch laceration on the side of her head “was almost impossible to get by falling down, and there was nothing out there for her to hit her head on.”
A chip at the base of the heavy absinthe bottle and the presence of blood suggested the vessel was probably used as a weapon. Both Kat and Jeff’s fingerprints were found on the bottle, but investigators expected as much since both partook in drinking the previous evening.
Looking into Jeff’s claims about the previous evening, authorities found security footage of the couple from around 8:40 p.m., smiling and happy while shopping at R & R Wine & Liquor in Calera. At one point, Jeff even playfully smacked his wife’s rear, showing zero indication that the night would end so violently.
Loved ones, including family friend Brittany Driesler, refused to put stock into the suspicions that would come to follow Jeff West.
“I don’t think there’s a harmful bone in Jeff West’s body,” Driesler maintained. “I’ve never seen Jeff be an angry person. I’ve never seen him act in anger.”
A Look Into Kat West’s Background
There was nothing to immediately suggest that Jeff would have caused harm to his wife, so detectives chose to look into Kat’s background. They found she was incredibly active on social media, including on an adult website described by Evans as a “members-only-type” forum where Kat West regularly posted and sold provocative photos.
Online, Kat used the name “Kitty Kat West” and garnered about 50,000 followers, leaving investigators to wonder if any of them might have been their suspect. Some, however, felt West’s online actions overshadowed who she was as a person.
“Just because she took those beautiful pictures, she was much more than that,” Kat’s friend, Dairlyn Lollis Sweeney, defended. “They don’t talk about how she was a great mother; they focus on her online stuff, her risky endeavors online, and she was so much more than that.”
Still, detectives wanted to check every box, but after two weeks of sifting through Kat’s correspondence, nothing pointed to an enamored fan.
Those who knew the Wests best also shut down rumors that Kat’s online history angered her husband. After all, they said, Jeff was the one who helped his wife take the seductive photos.
“The adult stuff that she was doing online, it surprised me at first,” Hinson admitted to Final Moments. “But I think it probably filled a void for her, or it gave her some validation that she might have been craving.”
Home security and phone data raises questions
During their investigation, detectives discovered the Wests’ Calera residence had an A.D.T. home security system, one that timestamped when the front door opened and closed on the night of Kat West’s death. According to Dep. Henley, the A.D.T. data and the timeline provided by Jeff West “weren’t exactly matching up.”
Jeff initially claimed he went to sleep on Jan 12, 2018, around 10:30 p.m., while the home security logs showed the front door open hours later at 1:51 a.m., remaining open for the next four hours.
Investigators secured a search warrant for Jeff’s phone, which stored data from one of the phone’s fitness apps.
“According to the fitness history on his phone, a short time after 11:00 p.m., he had taken 18 steps,” Henley told Final Moments.
A look at past text messages also revealed some fighting between husband and wife, including discussions of them calling quits in the marriage. Loved ones, however, maintained the correspondence was nothing more than what one might typically see in long-term relationships. They further maintained the data collected by detectives didn't point to homicide.
Returning to the original 9-1-1 call, detectives learned that the caller reported seeing Jeff West pacing at his home. The unearthed clue contradicted what Jeff previously told law enforcement: that he didn’t wake up until hearing sirens arrive at the scene.
Finally, Coroner Lina Evans took a fresh look at the absinthe bottle. Though Jeff West’s fingerprints were expectantly on the glass, they appeared to be upside down on the bottle’s neck, which aligned with the motion of someone using the bottle as a weapon.
On February 23, 2018, Jeff West was arrested for his wife’s murder.
Jeff West puts his fate in the hands of a jury
Experts theorized the Wests enjoyed a fun night until Jeff became angry about his wife being distracted on the phone. According to Coroner Lina Evans, it was possible Jeff threw the phone outside, and when Kat went to get it, he followed her to the street, “things escalated,” and he used the bottle to strike Kat on the head.
Details of the postmortem examination revealed Kat likely tried crawling off the street before dying in the fetal position.
Before the trial began on November 17, 2020, prosecutors offered Jeff a plea deal, which would have him serve a minimal sentence of time served plus two years on probation. The defendant, however, adamantly denied killing his wife and hoped to prove his innocence by leaving it with the jury.
The defense argued that the absinthe bottle couldn’t be conclusively identified as the murder weapon. Still, on Nov. 17, 2020, a jury found him guilty of reckless manslaughter, and he was sentenced to 16 years behind bars.
“Jeff wasn’t necessarily planning for this to happen,” Dep. T.J. Henley told Final Moments. “They had gone out, they had gotten drunk, they had gotten disgruntled about something, and maybe got into an argument. It wasn’t premeditated murder; it was more of a reckless killing.”
Today, friends of the Wests still question whether Jeff killed his wife. Brittany Driesler told Final Moments she believed investigators were too sidetracked by Kat West’s perceived “double life” and theories of a “jealous husband,” resulting in the case not being thoroughly investigated.
Others, like Chad Hinson, didn’t believe Jeff’s guilt was “proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“She’s just one of them people that you never forget,” said Dairlyn Lollis Sweeney. “The world is missing her beautiful soul.”
Watch all-new episodes of Final Moments, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.