THE COURT: You can stand and stretch, if you'd like, while the witness is coming, move around, whatever you need to do. If you need to step in the jury room, you may do that.
(Time was allowed.)
JERRY FALWELL, being first duly sworn, testified as follows during DIRECT EXAMINATION by MR. PANOSH:
Q Would you please state your name, sir.
A Jerry Falwell.
Q And Dr. Falwell, you're the chancellor of Liberty University; is that correct?
A I am.
Q And you're also the pastor of the church there; is that correct?
A Thomas Road Baptist Church, for 42 years.
Q And in the course of your duties as chancellor and as pastor, did you get to know Mr. Mitch Whidden?
A I did.
Q And on or about January the 25th of 1997, at a basketball game, did he come to you and speak to you?
A He did.
Q Would you tell the jury about that, please.
A Well, I was watching a basketball game at Liberty University and a young man approached me, who at the time was a student there, Mitch Whidden. He asked to talk with me, about something that I could tell had him obviously disconcerted.
He began to tell me a bizarre story that clearly had him very frightened. He said, "Pastor, I need to tell you about what happened at my home." He and his wife apparently had invited a couple friends to spend the evening with them, spend the night with them. And in the course of the conversations of the evening, the husband, the visiting husband, asked to talk privately with Mr. Mitch Whidden. They did get away from the rest of the two families. And he said the conversation basically was a confession made by Ronnie Kimble, Jr., to him, that he had shot to death and murdered his sister-in-law, for money, from his brother. And he asked me if -- what he should do.
Well, obviously, this was a rather unique happening. I did not know the details. He began to mention who the person was, and reminded me that I had met him the day before, in my office, when he and his wife came by, he being Ronnie Kimble, and his wife came by, to talk with me about the possibility of enrolling later in the Bible Institute there at Liberty. And I did remember the young man, because
he -- though he only talked a couple minutes, he mentioned he had a sleeping disorder, and that he would have difficulty staying awake in the -- in the classes. So I -that did jar my recollection.
As I recall, my advice to Mitch was twofold. One, "You probably have a legal responsibility, and you need to talk to an attorney, not to me, about that." My son is an attorney. He's general counsel for Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, Jr. And so, I told him that I would call Jerry later that night after the game and would set him up an appointment.
I said, "My second concern would be, the welfare of your family, if in fact the story is true, and if in fact you now know what allegedly was told you. If I were you, I'd have concern about my own welfare and the welfare of the -- of your family. And so, I would recommend that you not take this lightly."
He apparently took my advice. He did meet with my son. And my son at the time had another attorney serving with him at Liberty University in the general counsel office, Patric Yeatts. They both met with him.
And later, Mitch met with the dean of Liberty Bible Institute, which Mitch at the time was attending. And I was not present at either place, but it's my opinion that he relayed the story on both occasions. And as a matter of
fact, I know from conversation with my son, with Patric Yeatts, who's here today, and with Dr. Wilmington, that in fact what I have just told you was also relayed to them. All of that happened probably --
MR. LLOYD: Well, objection as --
A -- within a 24--
MR. LLOYD: -- to what was --
A --hour period of time.
MR. LLOYD: -- relayed to them, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Well, sustained.
Q Doctor, could you describe in a little bit more detail Mitch's demeanor when he spoke to you.
A He was very nervous. He was very disconcerted. This was at the basketball game. It was a tight game, and I was wanting to get -- I was wanting to watch it. And normally, when a student comes by and starts talking, I say "Yes" and "No" and "God bless you. Now go have a seat." And -- but about 30 seconds into the conversation, I forgot the ballgame, because he was -- he was a frightened young man.
He later pulled out of school and left the state, and missed the next semester. So he was a very, very upset young man, and understandably so.
MR. PANOSH: No further. Thank you, doctor.
MR. LLOYD: Thank you, Your Honor.
Q Dr. Falwell, you've indicated that the day before, you saw Ronnie Kimble in your office; is that right?
A That is correct, a day or so before. It's been two years now.
Q All right. And you talked to him at that time? A Standing in the lobby of the -- of the office building in which my office is located.
Q Okay. But your conversation was long enough, Dr. Falwell, that Ronnie Kimble relayed to you that he had an interest in coming to Liberty, to the Bible college there, but he was concerned about this sleep disorder that he had; is that right?
A That's correct.
Q And he indicated to you that his primary concern was that he might fall asleep during classes and wouldn't be a good student; is that right?
A That is correct.
Q All right. And do you recall, Dr. Falwell, his discussing with you whether you thought it was appropriate that he was receiving a call from the Lord to become a minister?
A I don't remember the exact nature of the conversation 20 months or so ago, but I remember that he did want to study the Bible. He did want to attend the Bible Institute. And as I recall, he either had talked to or was going to
talk to the appropriate registrar people on the campus. don't know if he actually did that or not.
Q And do you recall, Dr. Falwell, whether or not you encouraged him to attend Liberty Bible College?
A I would always encourage a young person who shows an interest in studying the Bible to do so.
Q And especially when that young person showed enough concern to be concerned about the fact that he might fall asleep in class?
A That's correct.
Q Now, did Ronnie seem at that time concerned or troubled about anything other than what he expressed to you about his sleep problems and falling asleep in class?
A I did not detect any such concern.
Q All right. So you didn't see any -- it didn't appear to you that he was burdened with heavy guilt or anything that you noted in your conversation, did you?
A It would have been impossible for me to discern that in the couple of minutes that I stood with other people in the foyer, as well, chatting with he and his wife.
Q Okay. But the only concern that he expressed to you, Dr. Falwell, was this concern about whether or not his sleep disorder would allow him to be a competent student there at Liberty Bible College; is that right?
A That is my recollection.
Q All right. And you've indicated on direct examination that you talked to Mitch Whidden at the basketball game, if it was the next day or whenever it was; is that right?
A That's correct. It was a night.
Q And was the circumstances of Mr. Whidden talking to you where he just came up to you at the basketball game and started talking to you, or were there special circumstances? A Well, I'm chancellor at Liberty University. We had about 8,000 people there. And I was sitting in the chancellor's box, which is a reserved section down at center court. And he was a little persistent. In order to get through ushers and persons who were standing nearby, he had to do a pretty good job of convincing them that it was urgent. And as I recall, one of them came to me first and said, "There's a young man here," and I looked at him and motioned to come on over.
Q All right. So if someone such as myself were at a basketball game and just wanted to talk to Dr. Falwell, that would have been difficult to do; is that right?
A Not impossible. But I would discourage -- I would say, "Wait till the game's over."
Q I understand that. I promise not to do it. Now, did you know Mr. Whidden? I understand that you make an effort to know all of your students. Did you know Mr. Whidden personally, before you talked to him on this occasion?
A The reason I knew Mitch Whidden and did not hesitate to invite him over, his sister attended Liberty University a number of years ago with my daughter. My daughter's now a surgeon in Richmond, Virginia. And his sister, Kay Whidden, also is a professional person, living in Richmond, Virginia, and they're to this day closest friends. And so, through his sister, Kay, I had met him. And because of the relationship between my daughter and Kay, I would have had that special connection with Mitch.
Q But is what you're indicating to the jury, Dr. Falwell, is that, you didn't know him as a friend or anything of that, but he was an acquaintance of yours; is that correct?
A That would be a correct statement.
Q All right. Now, you indicated on direct examination that he basically came to you and asked for your advice; is that right?
A He did.
Q And I believe that what you said earlier to the jury was, that he wanted advice on two issues, one, what was his moral obligation, and the other, what was his legal obligation; is that right?
A And I added that "You probably need to be concerned about your family, if in fact such a thing has happened." We did not know -- I didn't know at the moment that such a crime had ever even happened. I -- it could have been just
a concoction. But I simply said to him, "If this is real, then I can tell you as a pastor, you with a wife and children, you should have some concern about knowing this."
Q All right. But you said to him before you -- you prefaced that remark with the statement, "If this is fact, if this is real"; is that right?
A That's correct.
Q And was that your advice, in terms of his moral obligation, that his first moral obligation was to his wife and family?
A I thought he had two moral obligations. If he knew something involving a felony, a capital crime, he had -- I felt he had a moral obligation to reveal it. And secondly, obviously, a strong moral obligation for the safety of his family. I did not know, when he was telling me this, whether the crime had actually been committed, if somebody had just concocted a story, or if in fact such a crime had committed -- been committed, and if the person who told him about it had actually committed the crime.
Q Yes, sir.
A None of that I have any knowledge about.
Q And you -- and that's true to this day --
A To this --
Q -- is that correct?
A -- day, that's correct.
Q And you -- but did you tell him, Dr. Falwell, that he had a moral obligation, as far as you were concerned, to report this felony?
A I did.
Q All right. And in addition, you mentioned something about the welfare of his family; is that right?
A That's correct.
Q Now, do you recall any details that Mr. Whidden related to you concerning this?
A It was -- it was one of the more unusual stories that had been told to me. And because that it had an afterlife, it got indelibly imprinted on my mind. I would not normally remember a conversation at a basketball game two years ago, the details of it, that is. But I do recall that he said that his guest had told him that he was deeply, deeply convicted (sic) over what he had done. And I recall that he - said, "I'm going to be --" either "I'm going to be" or "I have been," I don't recall that, "paid for it. And I'd like to give it to you, to use in the Lord's work, at least, so that some good might come out of the money." And -- which made me feel that the person doing the talking to him, if telling the truth, was going through a time of remorse and sorrow because of what he had done.
Q But what Mr. Whidden told you was that the -- that this person that had confessed to him -- and at that time, he
didn't use any names; is that right?
A That's correct.
Q Was --
A Later in the conversation, he did.
Q Was deeply conflicted?
Q All right. Now, did he give you any details concerning the crime itself?
A Yes. He said he had -- he had killed his sister-in-law, had shot her to death, and then burned her.
Q Did he give you any further details, past that?
A No. That led me to tell him that he should as quickly as possible meet with an attorney and discuss his legal liability.
Q And it was only towards the end of the conversation that Mr. Whidden mentioned a name; is that right?
A Well, I -- again, I do not want, at the risk of being inaccurate, to say at what point in the conversation that he mentioned the name and reminded me that I had met the person. But somewhere in the conversation, he did tell me that.
Q All right. And that jogged in your memory the fact that --
A I'd had the meeting.
Q Well, he reminded you that you had met with the person
A That's correct.
Q -- is that right? Now, you used the word, I believe, in your direct examination that Mr. Whidden told you this bizarre story; is that right?
A That's correct.
Q Now, did Mr. Whidden at that time indicate to you that he had talked to anyone else concerning this admission, as he characterized it?
A I don't definitely recall that he had told anyone else. I think I advised him not to talk about this to anyone, except an attorney, but I could not definitely attest to whether he told me he had or had not mentioned it. I think that he said he had not, but I don't know that for a fact.
I later learned -- and I don't know the chronology of events -- that he called his sister, Kay, whom I mentioned earlier, my daughter's best friend in Richmond, and communicated to her what had happened. And what the chronology was, I'm not capable of saying, but he -- as I remember, he asked her to please come to Lynchburg. And she in fact did come to Lynchburg, to -- he was looking, I think, for support.
Q Now, Dr. Falwell, did he talk to you at that time about dropping out of school? Did that come up in the conversation?
A I do not think that came up, so I can't be confident,
but I do know that in a matter of days, he did drop out of school, he did leave the city, and he lost a semester in the process.
Q All right. But as far as your recollection is concerned, he did not talk to you about that on that occasion there at the basketball game, about the possibility that this was bothering him and that --
A I do not recall.
Q -- that he might drop out of school?
A I do not recall that he did.
MR. LLOYD: That's all I have, Your Honor.
MR. PANOSH: No further. Thank you.
THE COURT: You may step down, Dr. Falwell. (The witness left the witness stand.)
Published August 15, 2006. Report broken links or other problems.
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