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LAWRENCE COUNTY Retrial slated for man in 4 slayings



Published: Sun, April 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The trial is expected to take about a month.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Jury selection in the retrial of Thomas H. Kimbell, who is accused in the 1994 killing of a woman and three children in Pulaski Township, is expected to start this week.

Kimbell, 40, was convicted in the June 1994 stabbing deaths of Bonnie Lou Dryfuse, her daughters, Jacqueline, 7, and Heather, 4, and her niece, Stephanie Herko, 5.

A jury sentenced him to death after a 1998 trial, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Kimbell a new trial in 2000 after a judge determined Kimbell's attorney was not allowed to cross-examine a key witness.

Kimbell could again face the death penalty if convicted. He is charged with four counts of criminal homicide and one count of abuse of a corpse.

Attorneys estimate the retrial could take as long as a month.

What's different: New DNA evidence not offered in the 1998 trial is expected to be presented.

Kimbell's attorney Thomas Leslie had 18 items from the murder scene tested to bolster the defense's argument that someone else is responsible for the deaths.

These items were not tested before the first trial because there was not enough blood or the blood was too degraded to determine the person's identity. New technology now makes DNA testing possible on small amounts of blood.

Change requested: Leslie would not reveal the results of those tests, saying he is not commenting on the upcoming retrial because he is still petitioning the judge to move the case to another county.

In court papers last year, Leslie asked the judge to move the trial because of extensive press coverage of Kimbell's arrest and first trial. He believed an impartial jury could not be selected in Lawrence County.

Common Pleas Court Judge Dominick Motto rejected the motion, but noted that if it becomes apparent that an impartial jury can't be found once jury selection begins, he would consider moving the trial.

Police initially suspected Kimbell in the slayings of Dryfuse and the children, but he was not arrested until Dec. 23, 1996. Police were searching for evidence and even drained a pond behind Cascade Park looking for the murder weapon, which was never found.

To be decided: Attorneys plan to iron out some issues as jury selection begins. A hearing is set for Thursday to determine if a forensic pathologist hired by the defense should be barred from testifying.

Anthony Krastic, senior deputy attorney general, has asked that Dr. Bennet I. Omalu not be allowed to testify. Krastic contends Omalu's testimony will not be based in science, but on his opinion.

The court administrator's office said that matter should not hold up jury selection.




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