PORTLAND — Moments after a jury found 72-year-old lobster fisherman Merrill Kimball guilty of murdering a 63-year-old Georgetown man, his wife embraced the stunned man one last time before he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
A Cumberland County Superior Court jury issued its verdict early Wednesday afternoon after deliberating roughly eight hours over two days. Jurors apparently rejected the defense argument that Kimball fired in self-defense.
Kimball of Yarmouth fired three shots that killed Leon Kelley at the bee farm Oct. 6, 2013.
Kimball accompanied his wife and stepson to the farm, owned by 95-year-old Stan Brown, Kelley’s father-in-law, to collect more than a dozen 50-pound buckets of honey worth $5,000 that Kimball’s wife, Karen, said belonged to her.
The shooting resulted from a confrontation over the role Karen Kimball played in Brown’s finances. Kelley’s family suspected Karen Kimball was taking advantage of the older man, particularly after learning he added her to his will, leaving her the bee business and leaving the property to a land conservancy.
Kimball faces 25 years to life in prison.
After the verdict was announced, defense attorney Daniel Lilley spoke quietly to Karen Kimball, telling her, “I’m sorry – you know that. I did the best I could. We’ve got a good issue on appeal.”
Lilley said he did not argue with the verdict, but disagreed with the jurors’ decision.
“I don’t get shocked in this business too much, but this is a shocking as they get,” Lilley said.
Kimball and his wife declined to comment following the trial.
After hearing closing arguments Tuesday morning and receiving instructions from Justice Roland A. Cole, jurors deliberated for about four hours Tuesday afternoon and returned to the courtroom just before 4 p.m. tohear again an audiotape of a 911 call of the October incident, during which three gunshots fired by Kimball at Leon Kelley clearly were audible.
Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, who prosecuted the case with Assistant Attorney General Matthew Crockett, told jurors during his closing argument the recording was the most important evidence they would hear during the trial.
During six days of witness testimony, Lilley argued Kimball shot the much larger Kelley in self-defense after Kelley ordered him to leave Brown’s property, then pushed him across the yard in a threatening manner.
On Wednesday morning, while jurors resumed deliberations in another room, Lilley asked Cole to reinstruct the jury that anger and fear were “affirmative defenses” in a murder trial if the defendant had been sufficiently provoked.
Cole declined, telling defense and prosecution attorneys he repeatedly met with them to see whether they had additional requests before instructing the jury. Furthermore, he said, Lilley’s arguments did not support adequate provocation.
Lilley said following the trial that the “supreme court will probably have something to say” about Cole’s decision not to re-instruct the jury that anger is a defense to murder.
Alsop countered throughout the trial that Kimball overreacted when he fired three shots in rapid succession at Kelley, who died that afternoon in an ambulance on the way to a hospital. Alsop said witnesses testified Kimball “clearly was drinking hard liquor” and he questioned whether that played a role in his decisions that day. He argued that Karen Kimball knew her husband was armed when she took him into the tense situation.
Lilley focused his defense on Kimball’s words captured in an iPhone video taken by Brown’s granddaughter, Robin Rawnsley-Dutil, in the moments after the shooting: “What am I supposed to do? He came at me. I’m 70 years old.”
Lilley said Kimball was scared for himself, his wife and his stepson, who said they were assaulted by Craig Rawnsley. He pointed out during his closing that even Rawnsley-Dutil and Rawnsley told police Kimball was “terrified” and “a scared old man.”
Kimball did not testify during the trial, but jurors heard a transcript of his Nov. 5, 2013, testimony to the grand jury and audio recordings of interviews with state police and saw a video in which he re-enacted the incident.
Lilley said in the courtroom following the trial that Cole’s decision not to re-instruct the jury about anger as a defense would provide “pretty powerful” grounds for any appeal.
The verdict “obviously destroys (Kimball’s) life,” he said.
“We think justice was done,” Alsop said after the verdict. “Unfortunately it was a tragedy that can never be undone, but we are satisfied with the verdict.”
Kelley’s brother, Bill Kelley, told the media his brother is missed.
“He was a big asset to the community,” Kelley said. “He wasn’t a beast; he wasn’t a bully. It was in God’s hands, and it came out the way it was supposed to.”
Bill Kelley said he firmly believes in gun rights, but said “you have to use common sense. You have to watch out who you give permits to.”
Merrill Kimball, center, is led from the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland on Wednesday after a jury found him guilty of murdering Leon Kelley in 2013 in North Yarmouth.