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LAWRENCE COUNTY Defense lawyer hasn't decided if Kimbell will take the stand



Published: Sat, April 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Jail inmates said Thomas Kimbell told them the slayings resulted from a drug deal gone bad.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Prosecutors ended their portion of the murder trial of Thomas H. Kimbell Jr. on Friday, after 40 witnesses over six days.

Kimbell, 40, could face the death penalty if convicted in the June 15, 1994, stabbing deaths of Bonnie Lou Dryfuse, 34, her daughters, Jacqueline, 7, and Heather, 4, and her niece, Stephanie Herko, 5.

Defense attorney Thomas Leslie said he hasn't decided if Kimbell will testify. He said defense testimony will likely last about four days.

Friday's testimony ended early after one witness refused to talk.

Peter Michael Karenbauer, a child killer sentenced to die, told the prosecutor he was changing his story and didn't want to testify.

Karenbauer testified at Kimbell's first trial about a scheme he said the two men hatched when they were cellmates in the Lawrence County Jail in 1996. He said they agreed he would confess the Dryfuse killings and Kimbell would then sue the press and split the proceeds with Karenbauer's girlfriend.

Kimbell, who was convicted in the first trial and sentenced to die, was given a new trial by the state Supreme Court because his attorney was not allowed to confront a witness.

Before jurors were brought into the courtroom Friday, Karenbauer's attorney Kathy Swedlow told Judge Dominick Motto that her client did not want to talk.

What lawyer said

Swedlow, who is appealing Karenbauer's conviction, said he suffers from borderline personality disorder and is mentally retarded.

"He falsely confessed to a crime he didn't commit and acted at the direction of another person. It's not inconsistent with Mr. Karenbauer to make statements against his own interests," Swedlow said.

The judge ruled that Karenbauer must testify because what he was expected to say had no bearing on his own crime or conviction.

But even before prosecutors asked Karenbauer about Kimbell, he refused to talk. "Just so you know I'm recanting my statement," he said.

Karenbauer then said Kimbell told him he was innocent and Karenbauer was forced to testify in the first trial.

The judge let Karenbauer leave when he invoked his Fifth Amendment right, which allows a person to remain silent if he might incriminate himself in a crime. Judge Motto said Karenbauer faced perjury charges if he continued to change his story.

Judge Motto then allowed prosecutors to read Karenbauer's testimony from the first trial to the jury.

Randall Hetrick, Karenbauer's attorney in 1998, testified that no one forced his client to talk in Kimbell's first trial.

"I told him there was no benefit to him testifying, and he may want to hold out and see if something may be offered. He chose to testify," Hetrick said.

What Lester said

William Lester, who is serving a five-year sentence in state prison for rape, said he overheard Karenbauer and Kimbell talking about the Dryfuse murders. Lester was in the next jail cell.

Kimbell said he went to the Dryfuse home on Ambrosia Road to buy crack cocaine, but Bonnie Lou Dryfuse refused to give it to him because he had no money, according to Lester. No evidence has been presented that she was a drug dealer.

"They got into a heated argument and all at once, he started cutting her. She put up her arms to protect herself and he said he stabbed her. Then he said, 'I took care of the kids,'" Lester said.

Lester said Kimbell buried the clothing he was wearing that day.

Karenbauer's testimony from 1998 is similar in that he said the killings were the result of a drug deal gone bad, and Kimbell told him he put his clothing in a blue book bag and buried them. Karenbauer also contended the murder weapon was hidden in a nearby barn that burned down.

Three people testified Thursday that they saw Kimbell with a blue book bag just after the slayings. Police never found the bag.




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