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NEW CASTLE Retrial begins in Pulaski slayings



Published: Sat, April 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Prosecutors say the suspect talked about things only the killer could have known.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- It was the silence that struck Thomas Dryfuse when he walked into his Pulaski Township trailer on June 15, 1994.

"It was quiet -- real quiet -- and it shouldn't have been," he said.

A lighted burner on the kitchen stove and a strip of ceiling molding hanging over it caught his attention next. As he moved closer, Dryfuse found his wife, Bonnie Lou, 34, on the floor with a gaping hole in her stomach.

"At first I thought the stove had blown up. I touched her arm to see if she would move," he said.

When she didn't, he became alarmed and started searching frantically for the three little girls.

His daughters and a niece should have been about and were usually noisy. It wasn't until he reached the tiny back bathroom that he found them.

"Three babies with holes in them," he said.

Jacqueline, 7, was balled up next to the toilet; Heather, 4, and his niece, Stephanie Herko, 5, were lying on their backs with stab wounds to their chests, he said.

First day in retrial

That testimony marked the first day in the retrial of Thomas H. Kimbell, 40, the man accused of killing Dryfuse's wife, two daughters and niece.

Kimbell was convicted of the homicides in 1998, but was granted a new trial by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court because his attorney was barred from cross-examining a key witness during the first trial.

Dryfuse sat still in the witness box, talking without emotion as he recounted the day leading up to the murders and finding the bodies.

When he arrived home around 3 p.m., Dryfuse said he was startled to find the trailer door closed on the 90-plus-degree day.

"I figured Bonnie was taking a shower and she kept the girls inside," he said.

He recounted calling a friend for help after discovering the bodies and then calling 911.

He also admitted hiding a bag of marijuana before police arrived. "It was a stupid thing to do," he said.

Dryfuse said that sometime after the first 911 call, he thought he saw Heather's eyes flutter.

"I said, 'Hold on, Daddy's going to get some help,'" he said holding both arms in front of his body as he motioned how he picked up Heather's arm.

Ronald Porterfield, an emergency medical technician, testified Heather was dead when police brought him in to check.

William Hogue, former Pulaski Township police chief, was the first person to arrive. He said Dryfuse showed him the bodies and told him he thought the oven blew up and killed them.

The suspect

The man suspected of the killings is a recovering crack addict who spent the previous night smoking the drug in New Castle, said Anthony Krastek of the Pennsylvania State Attorney General's Office. Krastek is prosecuting the case because Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino previously defended Kimbell in another matter before taking office.

Krastek told jurors that days after the murders Kimbell told people details that only the killer could have known.

Kimbell's attorney disagrees, saying evidence points to another person.

"You will see that the facts don't fit together, something's wrong. The defense evidence will show there are other possibilities," said Thomas Leslie.

There is no physical evidence linking Kimbell to the murders, he said.

Testimony is expected to resume Monday before Judge Dominick Motto in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

cioffi@vindy.com




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