July 13, 2017- In a Clay County Courtroom today, Loren Daniel Bunner withdrew his Not Guilty Plea and entered in a plea of Guilty for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Jolee Nicole Callan, age 18. After an hour and half of testimony and hearing state’s evidence, Judge George Simpson handed down a sentence of 52 years incarceration to Bunner. The murder took place on August 30, 2015 in a densely wooded area along the Pinhoti Trail of Cheaha State Park.
Bunner had originally been granted youthful offender status by Judge Simpson, which only carries a maximum of three-year sentence and goes off your record at age 18. However, Simpson revoked this status is November 2016. Bunner was released on a 150,000 bond after serving just a few days in jail.
After Bunner’s youthful offender status was revoked, his attorney, Greg Varner, made a motion requesting Simpson reinstate the youthful status, claiming no new charges or additional evidence have been filed against Bunner. Simpson denied Varner’s motion in December 2016.
Bunner’s story at the time of the murder was that he and Jolee had a suicide pact. They were supposed to jump off the cliff together Romeo and Juliet style, but when they got there, neither could go through with it. So, Bunner had said that Jolee wanted to be shot in the back of the head, so she “wouldn’t see it coming.” A story that would prove to be false after autopsy proved Callan had been shot not only once in the back of the head, but point-blank between the eyes as well before Bunner threw her body off the cliff. Bunner then left the scene and called 911, confessing to the murder shortly afterwards.
The State’s Defense stated that Bunner had confessed to the murder many times, through a 911 call, several law enforcement agencies, and had even bragged about it to his cell mates.
One cell mate account was that Bunner said he had killed his girlfriend and he wasn’t sorry, because if he couldn’t have her, no one else could. Another story from Bunner said he had killed his girlfriend, shot her and threw her off the mountain and he would have gotten away with it if he hadn’t confessed.
Allison Davidson, Jolee’s English & Theatre Teacher at Vincent High, gave her testimony. Davidson stated that Jolee took Theatre classes for two years, during which time, she got to know Jolee very well. Davidson described Jolee as very intelligent, funny and bright, compassionate and kind. Davidson referred to Jolee as an excellent student, who was also in the gifted program. Davidson said she became very fond of Jolee, and soon they became friends outside of the classroom. Even after Jolee graduated from Vincent, She kept in touch with Davidson through texts, calls, and visits. Davidson stated Jolee came to see her three days before she was killed, and they had a nice visit. “She was the happiest I had seen her in awhile. She looked good and was in a great mood. She told me she was dating a new guy named Matt, but was still getting numerous calls from Loren threatening suicide, and when this would happen, Jolee would go ‘talk him down from the ledge’. I advised her that Loren was a grown man and could take care of himself and that she needed to move on with her life.”
Davidson knew all about the troubled relationship between Bunner and Jolee because Jolee confided in her throughout the life of the relationship. “Jolee said he played video games a lot, and they argued frequently. Loren isolated her from her friends, only allowing Jolee to hang out with his friends.” Davidson recalled prom night where they seemed to be a lot of tension between the two. Davidson said that Jolee was not suicidal, that she even told her on that last visit that she had decided to go to Montevallo, a college which she had been accepted in when she graduated. But not knowing exactly what she wanted to do with her life, Jolee had taken a babysitting job over the course of that summer, giving herself time to really think about what she wanted to do with her life. “She was very excited about the prospect of going to college. The last thing I told her on that visit was that I was proud of her for cutting ties with Loren and that I knew she would have a bright future,” said Davidson.
Jolee’s father, Michael Callan was next on the stand, dressed in a purple oxford button down, with a beautiful purple ribbon adorned with an angel on the pocket in honor of his daughter. Callan described his daughter as just a great kid, who never got into any trouble. ” I never had to spank her. Everyone who knew Jolee liked her. She had lots of friends and dearly loved animals. We had a great father/daughter relationship,” said Callan.
Callan’s description of Bunner mirrored what her former teacher had said. ” He played video games a lot, was quiet and kind of controlling”, said Callan,” They pretty much did whatever he wanted to do. He said he got the same texts and had the same conversations that Davidson talked about. ” She would tell me about him threatening suicide all the time, and I tried to tell her just to move on. But everyone who knew Jolee knew that if they were in trouble and needed a friend, she would be the first one there, and he knew if he called her and threatened to take his life, she would be there, and she was. She was always helping others.”
Callan spoke briefly about the tremendous impact that losing his daughter had had on not only him, but his family. ” It’s been terrible. My Mom and Dad’s house burned two weeks after Jolee’s death. I lost my Dad a little later, due to a stroke. I firmly believe that if Jolee hadn’t been killed, my Dad would still be here today. It’s just taken a toll on the whole family. Everyone loved her.”
Callan said that he too, suffered a stroke a year ago from the stress of losing Jolee. ” I celebrate Jolee’s birthday at her grave site with balloons every year. I think he should get life in prison or the electric chair.”
The 911 Recording was entered in as state’s evidence and played, which included a clear confession from Bunner: “I want to turn myself in for the murder of my ex-girlfriend, Jolee Callan that happened just a little while ago on Cheaha Mountain.”
Bunner’s court appointed Attorney Greg Varner felt that a reasonable verdict would be 20 years incarceration, a consistent judgement with prior sentencing of the Clay County District Court and also that Bunner had no other priors, other than a traffic ticket for running a stop sign.
But District Attorney disagreed, using words such as cold-calculated and pre-meditated to describe Jolee’s murder. ” There are three cases of homicidal violence in this case. First, he lured her to the mountains for a symbolic hike, and then he shoots her in the back of the head while she’s looking at the view. Then, he flips her over and shoots her point-blank between the eyes, I think, because he wanted to look at her in the eyes, if she was still alive. Then, he drags her body to the edge of the cliff and throws her 40 feet off the cliff. Not to mention, two days before the murder, he tried to take Jolee’s new boyfriend out by soliciting a friend to kill him.”
When Bunner was given an opportunity to say something to the courtroom before hearing his sentence, he declined.
Bunner’s 52-year sentence includes 10 years for the use of a firearm in the commission of murder. He will also have to pay restitution of $9, 255.00 to the Alabama Crime Victims Commission, attorney fees totaling $1500, and court costs.