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PULASKI SLAYINGS Child's mother runs from stand in retrial



Published: Wed, May 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The judge allowed the jury to watch a tape of Herko's 1998 testimony.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- A sometimes confused, often tearful Mary Herko tried to relate the last conversation she had with her sister-in-law, but she couldn't.

"I'm not OK. I'm not OK. I've got to go ... somewhere," she said before running from the witness stand and out of the courtroom in the retrial of Thomas H. Kimbell.

Kimbell, 40, is accused of killing Herko's daughter, Stephanie, 5, Herko's sister-in-law, Bonnie Lou Dryfuse, 34, and Herko's nieces, Jacqueline, 7, and Heather, 4, on June 15, 1994, at the Dryfuse trailer on Ambrosia Road, Pulaski Township.

Herko was the last person to speak to Mrs. Dryfuse before she and the children were killed sometime after 2:20 p.m. All were stabbed repeatedly.

Reason for new trial

Kimbell's attorneys maintain that last conversation is important enough for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to grant him a new trial. A jury convicted him in 1998 and sentenced him to death. He could face the death penalty if he is convicted again.

Herko's testimony in the first trial was videotaped and shown to jurors, but defense attorney Thomas Leslie was not permitted to question Herko about inconsistencies in her statement.

Herko told police her sister-in-law ended the conversation because someone had pulled into the driveway. In another police statement, Herko said Mrs. Dryfuse said her husband, Thomas Dryfuse, was pulling into the driveway.

The defense contends Dryfuse, not Kimbell, is the killer.

On Tuesday, Herko's recollection of that day was fuzzy, with only bits of the conversation being related.

Before abruptly leaving the courtroom, she said the two talked about going swimming, hanging clothes out to dry, making dinner and taking the children for ice cream.

Judge Dominick Motto later allowed the jury to see Herko's 1998 videotaped testimony.

On the 1998 video tape, a tearful Herko explained that she suffered from depression since her daughter's death and was under the care of a psychiatrist.

Herko said the numerous drugs she is taking for depression have clouded her memory and her conversations with Mrs. Dryfuse on June 15, 1994, are "all jumbled up."




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