LAWRENCE COUNTY Police discount change in story of victim's mom
The mother of one of the child victims was too distraught to testify.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Only once did Mary Herko speak calmly to police about the day her daughter was killed, but that interview is suspect, a retired state police trooper said.
Herko is believed to be the last person other than the killer to speak to her sister-in-law, Bonnie Lou Dryfuse, 34, before Dryfuse, her daughters, Jacqueline, 7, and Heather, 4, and Herko's daughter, Stephanie, 5, were repeatedly stabbed in the Dryfuse trailer on Ambrosia Road on June 15, 1994.
Thomas Kimbell, 40, a crack addict who lived about a mile away, is accused in the slayings and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Inmates have testified that Kimbell told them he killed Dryfuse and the children because he was searching for crack.
Kimbell maintains he was at his parent's trailer when the slayings occurred and his lawyer says that Dryfuse's husband, Thomas Dryfuse, who goes by "Jake," is the killer.
Kimbell was convicted of the slayings in 1998, but given a new trial by the state Supreme Court because his attorney wasn't able to cross-examine Herko about conflicting statements she made about that last telephone conversation.
Herko was called to testify Tuesday, but left the stand in tears after only a few minutes. Videotaped testimony of Herko from the 1998 trial was shown to the jury.
Richard Matas, a retired state police trooper, said he kept in weekly contact with Herko after the killings and she would cry and shake anytime they were mentioned.
Herko always maintained her sister-in-law said she had to get off the telephone because someone was there, he said, but the story changed slightly in a police interview June 20, 1995.
Matas played the audiotape of that interview for the jury Wednesday. On that tape, Herko said Mrs. Dryfuse had to hang up because Jake was pulling in the driveway.
Matas said that statement is suspect. He said a state trooper sent from Harrisburg to aid in the investigation insisted on speaking to Herko alone for about a half-hour that day.
"The same woman did not exit that entered that room," Matas said of Herko after she spoke with the other trooper.
What was different
Herko normally cried and shook when talking about the slayings, but not that day.
"When she walked out of that room, she was in control of herself. There was no emotion, not tears and no shaking," he said. "I cannot explain what transpired. I did ask."
Matas said Herko went back to her old emotional state the next day. Matas said the other state trooper would not explain why Herko was so calm during that interview.
Herko's psychiatrist, Dr. Shoukry Matta, testified that Herko can't control her emotions when talking about the deaths.
He said she has been hospitalized repeatedly, takes medication for depression and anxiety and has received shock treatment.