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Pa. Death Row Inmate Acquitted at Retrial, Freed
A Pennsylvania man, convicted
of brutally murdering a woman and three
children, has been freed from death row after being acquitted at a retrial.
A jury in New Castle,
Pa., found Thomas H. Kimbell Jr. not guilty Friday
after a trial that lasted nearly 2 weeks.
Kimbell became the 101st
person to be released since 1973 from death row
after exoneration, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in
Washington, D.C. Kimbell, 40, a onetime crack addict, was convicted in
1998 of viciously stabbing to death a woman and three small children in a
mobile home four years earlier in what prosecutors had portrayed as a
drug deal gone bad.
2 years later, the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court overturned the conviction
and said Kimbell was entitled to a new trial because the judge had
refused to permit jurors to hear evidence that raised doubts about his guilt.
Although Kimbell, who
lived near the murder victims, became a suspect
early on, he was not arrested until more than two years after the killings.
There were no eyewitnesses or physical evidence linking Kimbell to the crime.
The issue that led to
the retrial involved the testimony of Marilyn
Herko, who was the sister-in-law of murder victim Bonnie Dryfuse. In
addition to Dryfuse, her daughters Jacqueline, 7, and Heather, 4, and
Herko's daughter, Stephanie, 5, were stabbed many times and their throats
were slashed on the afternoon of June 15, 1994.
At Kimbell's first trial,
Herko was called as a defense witness and
testified that she was on the phone with her sister-in-law shortly before
the murders. She said that Dryfuse ended the call, saying, "I got to go,
somebody just pulled up in the driveway."
Then, defense lawyer Thomas
W. Leslie attempted to ask Herko about a
statement she had earlier given to state police, saying that Dryfuse told
her she had to end the call because her husband, Tom Dryfuse, was pulling
into the driveway. The prosecutor contended that Leslie could not impeach
his own witness and thereby suggest that Tom Dryfuse had been at the
crime scene 40 minutes earlier than the time he told police he had
arrived and found the bodies. The judge agreed with the prosecutor.
The state Supreme Court
said there was "a significant difference" between
the two versions. "Defense counsel's inability to cross-examine Herko
regarding the statement" deprived him of the opportunity to establish
that the husband "was at the scene of the murders during the time he
claimed to be elsewhere.... This obviously worked to the benefit of the
prosecution," the court held. Authorities dropped Tom Dryfuse as a
suspect before the 1st trial.
Kimbell had maintained
his innocence despite testimony from witnesses
that he had been near the scene of the crime shortly before the murders
and despite the testimony of several individuals, including three
jailhouse informants, that he had admitted committing the murders.
At the retrial, jurors
heard both versions of Herko's story. In addition,
one of the jailhouse informants had died and a second recanted his
earlier testimony, saying he had been pressured into giving it.
Defense lawyer Leslie
said he was very pleased with the outcome because
"I felt all along that the prosecution did not have a good case to begin
with. I think it's always questionable to use jailhouse informants
because they are usually looking for something, and that creates an
incentive for the inmate to make up a better story."
Anthony J. Krastek, Pennsylvania's
senior assistant attorney general,
said he was very disappointed in the outcome and still believes that
Kimbell was the murderer. Krastek, who was the lead prosecutor at both
trials, said that Kimbell had told people details of the crime that only
the murderer could have known.
Lawrence County Dist.
Atty. Matthew Mangino said his office would reopen
its investigation of the case.
"There may not be anything
more that we can do ... but it is certainly
our responsibility to take a close look and not just put it on the shelf
and say that's the end of it," Mangino said.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
4 years after Thomas H.
Kimbell Jr. was sentenced to die after being
found guilty of killing a Lawrence County woman, her two daughters and
her niece, another jury set him free, finding him not guilty of those
A tense, confused Kimbell
leaned over and whispered to his attorney,
"What does that mean?" as, one by one, the not guilty verdicts were read
aloud yesterday in the packed courtroom of Lawrence County Common Pleas
Judge Dominic Motto. Then as he realized that he had just been acquitted,
Kimbell enveloped his attorney, Thomas W. Leslie, in a bear hug.
After deliberating for
more than a day, the jury found Kimbell, 40,
formerly of Pulaski, not guilty of killing his neighbor, Bonnie Dryfuse,
34, her daughters, Heather, 4, and Jacqueline, 7, and her niece,
Stephanie Herko, 5, of New Castle, on June 15, 1994. All 4 were stabbed
multiple times and had their throats slashed in the Dryfuse family's
rural trailer home.
The verdict frustrated
the state attorney general's office, which took
over the case after Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino
determined he had a conflict of interest because he'd represented Kimbell
in another matter before he took office in 1998. Senior Deputy Attorney
General Anthony Krastek, who prosecuted the case at both trials,
portrayed Kimbell as a cocaine addict who became violent after he was
caught lurking around the Dryfuses' trailer and car.
"Obviously, we're very
disappointed with the jury's decision," said Sean
Connolly, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Fisher. "We thought we
had enough evidence to convict Mr. Kimbell again of these heinous crimes,
but the jury determined that we did not prove the case beyond a
reasonable doubt. Of course, the more time that elapses between a crime
and a trial, the harder it can be to obtain a conviction."
Mangino would not comment
on the verdict, but said its effect has been to
reopen the slaying case for continued investigation. He said the case now
will revert to his office and that he and his staff will meet as soon as
possible with state police to review evidence and discuss a course of action.
"There is an assistant
district attorney in my office who was involved
with the case at the beginning, prior to my coming in," Mangino said. "So
picking it up again doesn't mean reacquainting ourselves with its every
aspect. We will be able to do whatever needs to be done."
Kimbell was convicted
of killing Bonnie Dryfuse and the children in 1998.
That jury sentenced him to death for the children's slayings and life for
the death of Bonnie Dryfuse.
But in 2000, the state
Supreme Court unanimously overturned that verdict
and ordered a new trial after ruling that Common Pleas Judge Glenn
McCracken Jr. erred by barring crucial testimony that may have created
doubt about Kimbell's guilt during his 1st trial.
During Kimbell's first
trial, Mary Herko -- the mother of slaying victim
Stephanie Herko and the sister of Bonnie Dryfuse's husband, Tom --
testified that she spoke on the telephone with Bonnie Dryfuse less than
an hour before the bodies were discovered. Herko testified that Bonnie
Dryfuse hung up from that call at 2:20 p.m. after saying, "I got to go,
somebody just pulled up in the driveway."
That testimony, however,
differed from an earlier statement Herko gave to
police in which she said that Dryfuse had to hang up because her husband
was pulling into the driveway.
Tom Dryfuse testified
in Kimbell's 1st trial that he spent the day with
his father and did not come home until shortly after 3 p.m., when he
discovered the bodies and called police.
Leslie, Kimbell's attorney,
was barred from questioning Herko or entering
evidence about that contradiction during Kimbell's 1st trial.
Presenting that evidence
during the 2nd trial this week "made a big
difference," Leslie said yesterday.
"It was a significant
factor, and obviously it was important that we got
it in this time," he said. "I was appointed to this case more than 5
years ago and, for the 1st time since then, I feel very, very relieved."
The 2nd trial also lacked testimony from two men who testified in
Kimbell's 1st trial that they'd heard him admit to killing 4 people. One
of those men, -- Anthony Daniel DeFonde, a former friend and houseguest
of Kimbell's in 1996 -- has since died.
The other -- convicted
murderer Peter Michael Karenbauer, who met Kimbell
in state prison -- recanted his earlier testimony and cited his Fifth
Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to testify against
Kimbell this week.
Thomas Dryfuse and Mary
Herko could not be reached for comment after the
verdict. A woman who identified herself as their aunt, however, said the
verdict was "a huge shock, for sure."
Kimbell, who had been
held on death row until the Supreme Court
overturned his conviction and sent the case back to Lawrence County, was
to return last night to the State Correctional Institution Greene, Leslie
said. He was to be processed and released from there.
Leslie said he did not
know what Kimbell intended to do immediately but
said he planned to meet with Kimbell and talk with him about charting out
the rest of his life.
"At one point, he had
a drug problem, but he's been clean from drugs for
5 years. I want to keep him that way."
(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
In Pittsburgh, a former
death row inmate who had been granted a new trial
on charges he stabbed to death 4 people in 1994 was acquitted Friday and
released from prison.
Thomas H. Kimbell, 40,
had been granted a new trial in October 2000 by
the state Supreme Court, which said his lawyer should have been allowed
to explore inconsistent statements made to police by one of the victims'
mother at the 1st trial.
The jury deliberated about
13 hours before clearing Kimbell in the deaths
of Bonnie Dryfuse, 34; her daughters, Jacqueline, 7, and Heather, 4; and
Stephanie Herko, 5.
"It was a real saddening
event that happened, but I'm innocent. I didn't
have nothing to do with it and didn't do it," Kimbell told KDKA-TV
outside a state prison in Greene County, where his sister picked him up.
Prosecutors had said Kimbell
was on drugs when he went to the woman's
home about 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Investigators said Kimbell
knew details about the case that were not public.
"We felt we had enough
evidence to re-convict Mr. Kimbell of these
heinous murders. The jury, however, determined that we did not prove our
case beyond a reasonable doubt," said Sean Connolly, a spokesman for the
state attorney general's office.
(source: Associated Press)
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