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Jury hears testimony from 1998 trial



Published: Fri, April 26, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Thomas Kimbell told police he smoked crack cocaine the day of the murders.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Anthony DeFonde and Thomas Kimbell spent most days together getting high on crack cocaine, but they didn't always get drugs in return for their money, DeFonde had said.

"If we would get ripped off, [Kimbell] would get mad and want to kill them. He talked about being accused of killing four people and said, 'What would be one more?'" according to DeFonde.

DeFonde's words were read by a police officer to jurors Thursday in Kimbell's retrial in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court. Kimbell, 40, is on trial in the stabbing deaths of Bonnie Lou Dryfuse, 34, her daughters, Jacqueline, 7, and Heather, 4, and a niece, Stephanie Herko, 5.

DeFonde testified under oath about those conversations at Kimbell's first trial in 1998, but DeFonde has since died. Kimbell, convicted and sentenced to death in his first trial, was granted a new trial by the state Supreme Court because his attorney wasn't able to cross-examine a witness. The second trial started last Friday.

DeFonde's testimony marked the second time prosecutors had to read transcripts from the previous trial. Another witness was too ill to testify.

Witnesses describe bragging

DeFonde's 1998 testimony also relayed that Kimbell bragged about the Dryfuse murders when the two were passing the Ambrosia Road trailer one day.

"He turned over his right shoulder and said, 'Right there is where I killed them people,'" according to DeFonde.

Others also said Kimbell openly talked about the slayings.

Ronald Folino testified Thursday that he struck up a conversation with Kimbell in a holding cell at the Lawrence County Jail in 1996.

"I said I wondered what they did with the guy who killed those kids. He turned to me, clenched his fists and said, 'That's me,'" Folino said.

Police named Kimbell as a suspect within days of the slayings, but he wasn't formally charged until December 1996.

Theodore Swartzlander, a Pennsylvania State Police criminal investigator, said he interviewed Kimbell twice the week after the murders and Kimbell denied being near the Dryfuse home. Kimbell later said he hitchhiked from New Castle to a field across from the Dryfuse home, the state trooper said.

Telling details

In an effort to get more details, the state trooper asked Kimbell his opinion of how the murders occurred. Swartzlander said Kimbell, in relaying his opinion, gave details not known by the public, including that the children were found together in one room and there was only one doorway in and out of the trailer. The other door had been blocked by a steel bar.

Kimbell also told him he liked to light cigarettes from kitchen burners. A kitchen burner was found on in the Dryfuse trailer just after the slayings.

Retired state trooper Richard Matas said Kimbell told him he spent most of June 15, 1994, getting high on crack cocaine in New Castle and then walked to the Heritage Hills Trailer Park, not far from the Dryfuse trailer.

Donna Beck said she called police about Kimbell from the St. Francis hospital emergency room after having a disturbing conversation with him. Kimbell admitted himself into the psychiatric ward the day after the slayings.

Graphic descriptions

Beck, who was visiting a friend, said she met Kimbell in a smoking room and he told her he had done something really bad and needed to get out of New Castle. "Mr. Kimbell then told me it's not as easy to kill someone with a knife as you would think," she said. Beck said she also saw Kimbell walking west on U.S. Route 422 the day of the murders.

Jacqueline Bailey, a patient in the psychiatric ward with Kimbell, told police Kimbell talked about the murders in the hospital. "He made a comment about it being hard to stab kids because you hit bone easy," she said.




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