He was then brought back to Massachusetts, where he was indicted on first degree murder charges and accused of slowly and methodically poisoning his wife to death behind the closed doors of a supposedly very happy home. James pleaded not guilty and was held without bail.
In June, almost four years after Julie's death, the trial finally began. Prosecutors argued that the man everyone thought was a great guy was, in fact, a devious con man. They revealed a whole series of elaborate lies that James had concocted.
It turned out that James had never gotten into Harvard Business School; instead he had merely forged an acceptance letter. James had also lied about being employed. He had been fired from his job at the Learning Exchange at the beginning of the summer after his bosses found out he was stealing money from the company. In addition, James was in dire financial straits. He was broke and sliding deeper into debt. Instead of simply confessing to his wife, prosecutors claimed he killed her to collect a $250,000 life insurance policy.
Prosecutors pointed to James' computer for key evidence. Investigators searched Keown's computer for Internet search terms from mid-August, just before Julie became seriously ill, including "homemade poisons," "ricin," "Chloroform poisoning" and "antifreeze human death."
Antifreeze commonly contains ethylene glycol, the very poison that killed Julie. Prosecutors said James probably learned online that the sweet taste of antifreeze can easily blend with the similarly colored, sweet tasting Gatorade. Doctors had not tested for this type of poisoning during Julie's first hospital admittance in August 2004 because Julie waved off their suspicions.
Nancy Oldag remembered that her daughter found the doctors' questions ludicrous.
"The doctors kept asking her, 'Are you sure you are not getting some kind of poison,' and she laughed about that and thought it was completely ridiculous," she said.
Yet Julie's autopsy clearly showed she had been exposed to the deadly chemical for weeks. When defense lawyers tried to pressure Feral Sandler, the medical examiner on the case, to admit that poisoning isn't always a homicide, Sandler replied that she was convinced that a registered nurse would never kill herself in such a horrific way. "This is not a painless way to die. It didn't make sense [that] a nurse would put herself through a suffering type of long death like this," Sandler said at the trial.
Although police never found antifreeze or Gatorade in the Keown home, they knew Julie was drinking the sports drink because they had gotten hold of an e-mail chain between Julie and her friend and colleague Jill Lawson. In the message Julie stated, "James keeps wanting me to drink Gatorade, and my taste buds just can't handle anything citric.[sic]"
Julie's best friend, Heather LeBlanc, also testified that she had been on the phone with Julie and heard James calling out in the background, reminding his wife to drink Gatorade while she was ill.
In multiple e-mail exchanges throughout her illness, Julie wrote friends detailing what a wonderful husband and caretaker James was and how she was lucky to have him in her life. Even in e-mails written days before her death, Julie contacted friends and wrote about her unending love for James and her concerns that her illness would "mess up" his future.