Victim’s widow, stepdaughter give different accounts of North Yarmouth bee farm shooting

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PORTLAND — A mother and daughter who are key witnesses in the murder trial of Yarmouth lobsterman Merrill Kimball offered conflicting memories Tuesday of the day Kimball shot and killed 63-year-old Leon Kelley.

During the second day of testimony in Kimball’s murder trial at Portland Superior Court, Robin Rawnsley-Dutil, Kelley’s stepdaughter, told the jury that after Kimball, 72, shot her stepfather on Oct. 6, 2013, she was “terrified” when he pointed the gun at her.

The jury also saw an iPhone photo and video taken by Rawnsley-Dutil showing Kimball holding a gun pointed in Kelley’s direction.

Rawnsley-Dutil testified that she was at the North Yarmouth bee farm owned by her grandfather, 95-year-old Stan Brown, the afternoon of Oct. 6, 2013, when Kimball shot and killed her stepfather.

The defense and prosecution acknowledge that Kimball’s gunshots resulted in Kelley’s death, but they disagree on the circumstances that led to the shooting.

Defense attorney Daniel Lilley said during opening arguments Monday that Kelley provoked a confrontation and Kimball shot him in self defense.

On Tuesday, Rawnsley-Dutil said she saw Kelley place his hands on Kimball’s arms “to turn him, and he asked him to wait down by the road until the sheriff got there.”

She testified that she then heard four “rapid” shots.

Rawnsley-Dutil said her brother, Craig Rawnsley, told her to hide behind Kimball’s pickup truck.

“When I saw Merrill, he was pointing the gun at me,” Rawnsley-Dutil, a prosecution witness, testified Tuesday morning. “I was terrified.”

After hiding behind the truck, she took the photo submitted Tuesday as evidence. It shows Leon Kelley on the ground, Kimball’s wife, Karen Thurlow-Kimball, holding a phone, and Kimball holding a gun about 10 feet from Kelley.

In the video, Rawnsley-Dutil can be heard telling Kimball, as Kelley moans in the background, “I can’t believe you [expletive] shot him.”

Kimball responds, “What was I supposed to do? I’m 70 years old,” as Rawnsley-Dutil continues, “Do you have a permit for a concealed weapon? Go ahead, get it out. You are not on your property.”

Rawnsley-Dutil wiped away tears Tuesday as she watched the video of her stepfather lying in the driveway.

But Kelley’s widow, Kathleen Kelley, testified Tuesday afternoon that after the shooting, she saw Kimball point the gun at her son, Craig Rawnsley, for “what seemed like forever.”

On Tuesday morning, Rawnsley-Dutil said that Kelley made the first physical contact the day of the shooting. She testified that she told Maine State Police Detective John Hainey that Kelley “grabbed” Kimball.

“My client is backpedaling, right?” Lilley said. “He’s retreating, and when he gets to the edge of the gravel, there’s no place to retreat unless you go into the brush or the woods.”

Rawnsley-Dutil confirmed that scenario during cross-examination.

“When he finally gets to the edge of the grass, he finally pulls the gun out and fires,” Lilley said.

Under cross-examination later by Lilley, Kathleen Kelley said she saw Kimball push her husband.

“You’re sure you saw Mike Kimball push Leon?” Lilley asked. “He was the first person to touch? He started it?”

“I couldn’t see whether Leon touched him or not before that,” she replied.

Both women were consistent, however, about the threat they felt Kimball’s wife, Karen Thurlow-Kimball, posed to Stan Brown.

Thurlow-Kimball had expressed an interest in bees and had worked with Brown since 2009. But both Rawnsley-Dutil and Kelley said Tuesday that they were concerned about the influence Thurlow-Kimball was exerting over Brown, whose health was failing.

Kathleen Kelley, who is Rawnsley-Dutil’s mother and Brown’s daughter, said Thurlow-Kimball initially visited with her elderly father, but had begun to show up only at the bee shop.

Both women said they knew Thurlow-Kimball and Brown had made an agreement about the operation of the bee business, but said they were suspicious of the money Thurlow-Kimball spent from Brown’s account.

They also acknowledged that Brown had left the bee business and a few acres to Thurlow-Kimball in his will, while the entire Kelley side of the family was not included in the will.

The two women said they were at the farm on the morning of the shooting to discuss having Thurlow-Kimball served with a restraining order to keep her from the farm.

When Merrill Kimball pulled onto Honeycomb Lane that morning, according to Rawnsley-Dutil, he drove fast enough that gravel sprayed and “he looked right at us with a very angry look on his face.”

His minivan was followed by Thurlow-Kimball and her son in a pickup truck.

When Kimball got out of his truck, Rawnsley-Dutil said, Craig Rawnsley stood in front of the bee shop door and told the Kimballs “they weren’t getting into the shop that day, that they needed to leave, that they were trespassing.”

But Rawnsley-Dutil said they refused to leave until the sheriff arrived. She said Thurlow-Kimball was at the farm that day to pick up gallons of honey she believed belonged to her. She also alleged that Thurlow-Kimball was stealing from her grandfather.

In response to questioning by Lilley, Kathleen Kelley acknowledged telling state police she “had a feeling something was planned.”

“Are you saying you think Mike and Karen planned to go there and shoot somebody?” Lilley asked.

“I don’t know if it was planned, but they had a loaded weapon,” she said. “It’s not that it was about killing anybody. I just felt that something was off.”