NEW CASTLE Witness's testimony differs in Kimbell retrial
Doctors estimate the victims died within minutes of being attacked.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- A witness in the retrial of Thomas H. Kimbell Jr. has changed her testimony.
Carol Porterfield, 56, testified Wednesday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court, and her testimony differed from what she said at Kimbell's first trial four years ago. Judge Dominick Motto advised her at the close of proceedings Wednesday to talk to an attorney, because she could face perjury charges. She was to return to the witness stand this morning and face further questioning on the issue.
Kimbell, 40, is accused in the June 15, 1994, stabbing deaths of Bonnie Lou Dryfuse, 34, her two daughters, Jacqueline, 7, and Heather, 4, and a niece, Stephanie Herko, 5, at the Dryfuses' trailer on Ambrosia Road, Pulaski Township. Kimbell was convicted of the murders in 1998, but granted a new trial by the state Supreme Court because his attorney was not allowed to question a key witness.
Difference in testimonies
The problem came when Porterfield, a neighbor of Kimbell's parents, testified that she saw Kimbell shortly after 3 p.m. the day of the murders and his hair was wet.
At the first trial she said it appeared he had just showered. On Wednesday she said his hair was wet, but denied that it appeared Kimbell had showered.
Under questioning by Kimbell's attorney, Thomas Leslie, Porterfield said it was hot and Kimbell could have been perspiring.
Kimbell's physical appearance shortly after the murders is important because police and forensic pathologists have said the killer should have been covered in blood.
There were numerous stab wounds to Mrs. Dryfuse and the children, according to forensic pathologists Karl Williams and James Smith.
Police have testified that there was a large amount of blood in the kitchen where Mrs. Dryfuse was killed and more blood in a small bathroom where the girls died.
The forensic pathologists detailed their wounds for the jury Wednesday morning.
Smith said Mrs. Dryfuse tried to defend herself with her left hand, and an artery was cut as she grabbed the knife.
Her throat was slit and there were numerous other stab and slash wounds to her neck and chest, he said. The fatal wound was one that pierced her heart and death likely came within a few minutes, Smith said.
He noted that Mrs. Dryfuse's right shoulder had no stab wounds, but there were bruises and scrapes that likely came from falling to the ground.
Defense expert's contention
A defense expert, who is expected to testify sometime next week, contends someone very strong held Mrs. Dryfuse's right shoulder down as she was attacked.
Defense attorneys have argued that Kimbell, who weighs 120 pounds, could not have held down the 250-pound woman.
Smith and Williams both said the killer stabbed all four in a frenzy and with great force.
The knife was never found, but the doctors estimate it was a single edge knife, about one inch wide. They could not determine its length.
The children, Williams said, also died within minutes, but Heather would have lived the longest because she bled to death.
None of her vital organs was stabbed, but there were many wounds on her head and back, he said. She likely lost consciousness before death because of a fracture to her skull, he added.
Stab wounds to Jacqueline and Stephanie, however, hit vital organs and killed both quickly, he said. Stephanie's throat was cut and Jacqueline had several stab wounds to her chest and stomach, Williams said.