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Ronnie Lee Kimble 

                                                  

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Frank Patrick Yeatts, Witness for the State


 

MR. PANOSH: Your Honor, we also have Mr. Yeatts here from Virginia. May we take him out of order?

THE COURT: You may do that.

FRANK PATRIC YEATTS, being first duly sworn, testified as follows during DIRECT EXAMINATION by MR. PANOSH:

Q    Would you state your name, sir.

A    It's Frank Patric Yeatts.

Q    And Mr. Yeatts, you're a licensed attorney in the state of Virginia; is that correct?

A    I am.

Q    In the course of your duties and responsibilities, in


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January of 1997, did you represent Liberty University?

A    I did.

Q    And you were in partnership with whom, please?

A    Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Q    In the course of your duties on or about January the 25th, did there come a time when you met Mitch Whidden?

A    Yes, I had occasion.

Q    Could you tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury about that, please.

MR. LLOYD: Well, Your Honor, I'd object at this point. I mean, obviously Mr. Panosh could call, I don't know how many witnesses, to bolster --

MR. PANOSH: That is the only other corroborating witness.

THE COURT: Overruled.

Members of the jury, this testimony is being offered for the purpose of corroborating the testimony of an earlier witness. It would be for you to say and determine whether it does in fact so corroborate that witness's testimony. It's not being offered for the truth or falsity of the statement, but whether in fact the witness made a statement to this witness on that occasion.

A    I believe it was in late January, was the first occasion I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Whidden. Dr. Falwell had called his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr. and myself


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and indicated that he would like us to meet a student, that there was a story that a student needed to discuss with us or a legal matter that he needed to discuss with us, and it was quite urgent, so he would appreciate us meeting with him that particular afternoon. And I believe that was the day after the basketball game, in which Mitch Whidden had talked to Dr. Falwell.

We made arrangements for Mitch to come up and meet with Jerry Falwell, Jr. and myself, and -- at which time, Mitch told us the events leading up to this trial.

Q    Briefly, what did he tell you?

A    Mitch had indicated that he was in the Marine Corps. He had worked in -- worked in the chaplain's office, and he had an acquaintance or a friend named Ronnie Kimble that occasionally would drop by the chaplain's office, and that he, I guess, had befriended during his time in the Marines.

He indicated that -- and I may need to refer to my notes on occasion -- but he indicated that at some point during his relationship with Ronnie Kimble, Ronnie had brought up on several occasions the death of his sister-in-law.

Mitch indicated that at some point in time -- and I'll refer to my notes for maybe an exact date.

(Time was allowed for the witness.)

A    I believe it was the 23rd of January, 1997, Ronnie


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Kimble had phoned and stated that he wanted to come up and visit Mitch and get some information on the Liberty Bible Institute.

The next day, Ronnie Kimble and his wife arrived, and Ronnie Kimble and his wife discussed the murder and the circumstances that were taking place in North Carolina.

Mitch indicated that, I believe it was during dinner or maybe some other time when they were traveling from dinner back to Mitch's apartment, that Ronnie Kimble had indicated to him that -- well, he was frustrated with the way that things were proceeding. And Mitch did indicate that he thought it was quite unusual that he was frustrated with the investigation and were -- was frustrated to the point that he was -- he was getting questioned about the murder. He thought it was -- he thought it was odd that Ronnie would be concerned that the investigators were just doing their job and trying to find out and that they were questioning, you know, anybody who might have any information relating to the murder.

He stated that at some point during their meeting that night, Ronnie had indicated that he had a gas receipt and that he didn't understand why they were questioning him and trying to implicate him in this murder, but that he had a gas receipt that would prove that he was nowhere near the scene during the time of the act.


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Mitch indicated later on that night, Ronnie had indicated he would like to speak with him privately, wanted to discuss a matter with him. And I believe Mitch said that they proceeded upstairs, and that's where Ronnie confessed to him that he was the one who had actually killed his brother's wife, he had shot her, and that they had burned, I believe it was a trailer that they were living in at the time, and basically that he wanted to get it off his chest.

He indicated that to Mitch, he was questioning about the money that they had received from insurance proceeds, and then indicated to Mitch that he would like to give that money to Mitch, so Mitch could get it to the university or use it in building his church when he became a pastor and so it could be used for God's work.

Mitch indicated that he responded to Ronnie, stating that he didn't want anything to do with the money, and in his opinion, it was blood money, and that he thought that Ronnie should confess, should turn himself in and get himself straight with the Lord.

Mitch indicated that he had asked Ronnie to leave that night, and that they did try to find a valid excuse, because he was -- he said he was very concerned about not wanting to startle Ronnie, to the point of where Mitch -- or Mitch or his wife or any of his children would be in danger. So he indicated that he really couldn't -- they couldn't come up


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with a valid excuse to ask Ronnie and his wife to leave, and he didn't know what to do. So he indicated that he sat up all night, basically looking over his family and kids, to make sure nothing happened.

He did state that Ronnie left the next day, and -- but before leaving, he did indicate to Mitch at some point that Mitch was basically the only person he had confessed this crime to. And Mitch, you know, was concerned about that, from the standpoint that he knew he was the only individual who had actual knowledge of Ronnie's testimony.

Mitch indicated that several days later -- and I'm not exactly sure what date, I. believe I have the 28th of January in my notes -- Mitch traveled to North Carolina, to try to convince Ronnie to turn himself in. And Mitch and his wife stayed with some friends about 30 miles away and -- just to make sure that they were, you know, a safe distance away. Then Mitch traveled in to meet with Ronnie, and I believe they had lunch together.

Once they were at lunch, Mitch had tried to convince Ronnie once again to turn himself in. Mitch had stated that Ronnie's response was, at some point -- I can't remember if his response was, at this particular time he would -- he would die before he went to prison or he'd kill himself before he went to prison. But I remember specifically on this encounter when Mitch went to North Carolina, Mitch


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indicated that Ronnie stated that he really didn't think he killed his sister-in-law, that he believed he was dreaming it up, and Mitch said, "Well, Ronnie, if that's the case, the money from the insurance company and the weapon should be," you know, "evidence enough of whether you did or didn't commit this act. So if you're dreaming it, there shouldn't be any insurance money and there shouldn't be a weapon."

And this was the last contact that Mitch had with Ronnie Kimble, was at the meeting down there at the end of January.

Q    Thereafter, did you make certain inquiries for Mitch?

A    We did. Mitch had come to see us for several reasons. He had -- he was concerned with his moral obligation, as well as his legal --

MR. LLOYD: Object to what he was concerned about, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    Did he ask you to do something?

A    Yes. Mitch asked us to find out what his legal obligation was. If he had this information that had been revealed to him by Mr. Kimble, he wanted to know whether he was legally obligated to reveal the information to the detectives and to the -- to the District Attorney's Office.

Q    And what did you tell him?

A    Well, not being a North Carolina attorney, and being a


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Virginia --

MR. LLOYD: Objection to what he told him, Your Honor.

MR. PANOSH: All right.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    Did there come a time when you contacted the District Attorney's Office?

A    Yes. I believe we contacted the District Attorney's Office on the -- I believe it was the 31st of January.

Q    And in the course of your contact, did you negotiate an agreement?

A    We did.

Q    Do you have that agreement with you?

A    I do.

(The witness handed a document to Mr. Panosh.)

MR. PANOSH: Is my next Number 131, Madam Clerk?

THE CLERK: Yes, sir.

(Mr. Panosh showed an exhibit to Mr. Lloyd and Mr.

Hatfield.)

MR. LLOYD: May we approach, Your Honor?

THE COURT: Yes, sir.

(The following proceedings were had by the Court and all three counsel at the bench, out of the hearing of the jury.) (Mr. Lloyd handed the exhibit to the Court, and time was allowed for the Court.)


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THE COURT: What's the problem?

MR. LLOYD: Well, Your Honor, first of all, I don't know what relevance that an agreement between the District Attorney's Office and Mitch Whidden and his attorneys has in this case.

THE COURT: It's --

MR. LLOYD: And secondly, Mitch Whidden hasn't testified about it. I mean, I'm not doubting its authenticity, but I just question what it's doing in this case. I mean, what is the purpose of it?

THE COURT: Well, he just testified that he wanted assurances that he would be protected by the DA's office -

MR. LLOYD: Well --

THE COURT: -- the State.

MR. LLOYD: -- I mean, they're welcome to say that. One of the problems we run into --

THE COURT: Why don't you just restrict it to that, restrict his testimony to that agreement, and not get into any of that stuff about any --

MR. PANOSH: Yes, sir.

MR. LLOYD: All right. Thank you, Your Honor (Proceedings continued in open court.)

(The Court handed the exhibit to Mr. Panosh, and Mr. Panosh handed the exhibit to the witness.)

Q    Drawing your attention to State's Exhibit 131 -- marked


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as 131, that is -- did Mitch Whidden have specific concerns that you discussed with the DA's Office and reached an agreement?

A    I'm sorry? I --

Q    Did Mitch Whidden have specific concerns that caused you to enter into an agreement with the DA's Office of Guilford County?

A    Yes, he did.

Q    What were those concerns?

MR. LLOYD: Object, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled.

A    The concerns were namely the safety of his family. Mitch was quite concerned if he revealed this information, and if he was called to testify, that his family --

MR. LLOYD: Object, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled. He's testifying to the nature of the understanding.

A    -- that his family, namely his wife and his children, would be in danger.

Q    And did the agreement that you reached address protection for Mitch in that event?

A    It did. Under the circumstances, it was the best agreement, you know, we could -- we could reach with the District Attorney's Office here.

Q    Was it satisfactory to Mr. Whidden?


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A    Yes, it was.

Q    And thereafter, did you advise him to meet with law-enforcement officers?

A    I did.

Q    And were you actually present when that meeting took place on February the 3rd?

A    Yes, I was.

Q    Now, without going through everything Mitch told you previously, in that February 3rd meeting, did he say anything different or additional?

MR. LLOYD: Well, object, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled.

A    No.  Basically Mitch recounted -- he recounted everything that I've said up to this point in time.

Q    And do you recall Agent Pendergrass being present and taking notes --

A    Yes, I --

Q    -- the gentleman there? (Indicated.)

A    Yes, I do.

MR. PANOSH: No further questions. Thank you.

CROSS-EXAMINATION by MR. LLOYD:

Q    Mr. Yeatts, you've referred to your notes in the course of your testimony; is that correct?

A    Yes.

Q    Are these the notes, Mr. Yeatts, that you took in the


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first conversation that you had with Mitch Whidden? (Mr. Lloyd approached the witness and indicated.)

A    Let's see.

(Time was allowed for the witness.)

A    These notes are notes from that first conversation.

Q    Okay. I notice the notes are typewritten?

A    Right.

Q    Obviously, you don't type as you take --

A    That's correct.

Q    -- notes?

A    That's correct.

Q    So that's some sort of transcription from what -- the actual notes you took?

A    From my chicken scratch.

Q    All right. And so, you did actually take --

A    I did.

Q    -- longhand notes?

A    Uh-huh.

Q    If I could see those, Mr. Yeatts. Are these the notes? (Indicated.)

A    Let's see. I believe the notes --

(Time was allowed for the witness.)

A    I don't believe I have that complete file here. I have some notes after my employment with the university, but I believe all of those notes may still be at the university --


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Q    All right.

A    -- in a particular file. These are -- this is actually a copy of probably what was in that file. Of course, I didn't take the original files with me --

Q    Okay.

A    -- once my employment -- when I left the university.

Q    But this is what you referred to in refreshing your recollection for your testimony here?

A    Correct.

Q    All right. Thank you, Mr. Yeatts.

(The witness handed documents to Mr. Lloyd.)

Q    Now, when you got a call from Dr. Falwell, he told you basically that there was a student with a, I believe your characterization on direct examination was a story; is that right?

A    Or a legal -- a legal concern he needed --

Q    All right.

A    -- to discuss with us.

Q    And you indicated that in your discussions with Mitch Whidden -- And this would have been the first time that you talked to him about it?

A    Uh-huh.

Q    -- that the murder was discussed with Ronnie and his wife; is that right?

A    I believe generally. I believe the -- not the


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specifics of the murder, not what Ronnie had revealed to Mitch in the bedroom that night, but the -- they had discussed generally the murder. I believe there was testimony -- or I believe that Mitch had indicated that Ronnie's wife had talked about an alarm -- this is just something that's coming back from my recollection -- about that they had in fact purchased an alarm for their home, and they had just discussed, you know, the murder and the investigation generally, as Mitch said that he and Ronnie had done on several occasions before.

Q    All right. And if I understand you correctly, Mr. Yeatts -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- you're saying that Ronnie Kimble's wife indicated that they had purchased an alarm for their home?

A    Yeah, I remember that. Now, I don't know if that's in my notes or, you know, why that's coming back to me, but for some reason, there seemed to -- they seemed to have a discussion, I don't know whether it was at dinner or later that night, when his wife was talking about, you know, the actual act or the criminal act and stating that it had caused them so much concern, that they had gone to actually putting an alarm in their home.

Q Now, you indicated that during the course of your conversation with Mitch Whidden, he told you that what Ronnie Kimble had said to him was that he had a gas receipt


1501

and that he was nowhere near the scene; is that right?

A    Something to that effect. I remember the gas receipt, and basically it having a time on the receipt, which would show that wasn't -- you know, couldn't be at two places at the same time.

Q    And when Mitch -- the time frame that Mitch Whidden put that in was that Ronnie Kimble had told that to him that night, was it at dinner, or was it on the way home from dinner, on January 23rd --

A    You know --

Q    -- or 24th?

A    I mean, I don't know at what point, you know, he talked to him about the gas receipt. I just remember that they had a discussion about a gas receipt.

Q    But it was your impression that what Mitch was relating to you was conversation that had taken place on this night in January, up there in Lynchburg; is that right?

A    As far --

MR. PANOSH: Objection to --

A    -- as the --

MR. PANOSH: -- his impression.

A    -- gas receipt's concerned?

Q    Yes, sir.

A    I don't recall whether the gas receipt was something that was in their earlier conversations, or whether it was


1502

in the conversation that night, but there was discussion about a gas receipt.

Q    All right. Now, did you ever discuss with Mitch Whidden the possibility of his receiving any reward money in this case?

A    No, I did not.

Q    Now, what Mitch Whidden related to you was that, sometime after the conversation in Lynchburg, that he went to Camp Lejeune; is that right?

A    That's correct.

Q    And that he had lunch with Ronnie Kimble on that occasion; is that correct?.

A    I believe that was the nature of their meeting, was at lunch.

Q    That's what Mitch Whidden related to you?

A    I believe so.

Q    And it was at this time that Mitch Whidden told you that Ronnie Kimble had said that this was a dream?

A    Yeah. Mitch had basically had approached Ronnie again, to try to convince him to turn himself in, and Ronnie's response was, you know, "I didn't --" "I didn't mean that" or "I didn't do that. This was a dream." Something along those lines, to the effect that what he had told him earlier really wasn't true.

Q    He was just relating a dream, is --


1503

A    Yeah. Yeah.

Q    -- what the crux of that was?

A    Right.

Q    And that Mitch's response, as Mitch told it to you, to Ronnie at that point was, well, he would know whether or not it was a dream if he got the money from his brother; is that right?

A    Yeah. Mitch indicated -- at some point, you know, Mitch had told Ronnie, "Well, you'll know whether it's a dream or not, because either your brother has given you money and you have money in your account, or you've done something with the money, or you've done something with the murder weapon."

Q    All right. But he cited those two factors, as evidence that would refute the dream explanation, if you will; is that right?

A    He recited them to Ronnie.

Q    To Ronnie Kimble?

A    That's correct.

Q    Okay. He did not tell you that he confronted Ronnie Kimble and said, "What you told me about up in Lynchburg, you were not talking about a dream"? He never said that to you, did he?

A    I don't believe so. I -- you know, I can't remember, you know, every detail of our conversation and of what took


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place a year and a half ago.

Q    But you remember it in sufficient detail that you've been able to relate to the jury that he did tell you, number one, that he would know it was not a dream when he received money from his brother; is that right?

A    Uh-huh.

Q    All right. And he would know it was not a dream when he found the murder weapon?

A    Right. I remember specifically Mitch making -- or telling myself that he had stated that to Ronnie.

Q    Now, when Mitch Whidden related this story to you, that he -- he told you that Ronnie Kimble was very angry after this telephone call had come in; is that right?

A    After the telephone call -- I guess after the telephone call of the investigator --

Q    Yes.

A    -- inquiring information or details from his mother-in-law?

Q    Yes.

A    Yes. I remember -- I don't remember specifics about that, but I believe that's what led into the conversation about the investigation generally --

Q    But --

A    -- between them.

Q    -- when Mitch related it to you, the word he used was


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"angry," is that correct, or some form thereof?

A    That Ronnie --

Q    Yes.

A    -- was angry?

Q    Yes.

A    Maybe so. I don't know how -- he characterized it as looking back in hindsight, that it was strange, the way Ronnie reacted, that he would be angry about investigators calling, you know, his mother-in-law about this investigation.

Q    And Mr. Yeatts, you wrote in your notes, "Ronnie Kimble was very angry that detectives had questioned his wife's parents," right?

(Mr. Lloyd handed documents to the witness.)

A    Well, I guess -- yeah, that's what I have in my notes.

Q    And the next phrase of that sentence is, "and even more-angry that they had questioned him"; is that correct?

A    Uh-huh.

Q    And --

A    I think -- of course, this is my notes, and it's notes that I have, you know, paraphrased from meeting with Mitch.

Q    Well, of course, you were trying to be as accurate as you possibly could when you took the notes, were you not?

A    That's correct.

Q    All right. You were simply at this point, in terms of


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getting down -- you were simply relating what Mitch told you at that point; is that right?

A    That's correct.

Q    All right. You weren't trying to superimpose your own impressions on what Mitch was telling you --

A    No.

Q    -- or substitute your own judgment or impressions for what Mitch was giving you, were you?

A    No.

MR. LLOYD: That's all, Your Honor.

MR. PANOSH: Just briefly.

REDIRECT EXAMINATION by MR. PANOSH:

Q    In the course of your employment -- or association with Mitch, was there any discussion of reward?

A    I believe the first discussion of reward -- And of course, we did not bring up the reward. I believe Detective Church at some point told Mitch that there was a reward. And Mitch indicated that he wasn't interested in the reward, and that he -- that he had no, you know, no interest in the reward whatsoever. Mitch never mentioned the reward to us, you know, after that point in time.

Q    In the course of your discussions with the detectives, was there ever a discussion about him wearing a recording device or a wire, about Mitch wearing that?

A    I believe there was.


1507

Q    What did Mitch say?

A    Mitch indicated that he believed that that was being deceitful, that he did not feel like in good conscience, and being a minister, or being -- studying to be a minister, that he could go under the guise of befriending Ronnie and going down there and being hooked up to a wire, to obtain information related to this investigation.

Q    Would you describe Mitch's demeanor the first time you met him and discussed this.

A    Mitch's demeanor --

MR. LLOYD: Well, objection, Your Honor. We've

THE COURT: Have we not been over that on cross-examination?

MR. PANOSH: No further.

THE COURT: Any questions, Mr. Lloyd, on those two points?

MR. LLOYD: Just a couple, Your Honor.

RECROSS-EXAMINATION by MR. LLOYD:

Q    Mr. Yeatts, did Detective Church mention the amount of the reward in this case?

A    I don't recall an amount being mentioned. Mitch brushed it off very quickly, when Detective Church mentioned that there was a reward. That was during the conversation when Detective Pendergrass and Detective Church came to the university and met with Mitch, and towards the end of the


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conversation, Detective Church did say, "Mitch," you know, "we just wanted you to be aware, there is a reward," you know, "for information leading to arrests." And Mitch said, "I'm not interested in the reward, and the information I've given you," you know, "is not because there is a reward or is no reward."

Q    Of course, when was the last time that you talked to Mitch Whidden in your professional capacity?

A    I'd have to look back at my notes, but it's been -- I mean, it was -- I believe sometime in '97, probably maybe June or July of '97, possibly.

Q    So it's been a year ago or thereabouts?

A    Correct.

Q    Did Detective Church or Agent Pendergrass, when they talked about the reward, did they talk specifically about a governor's reward in this case?

A    No, they didn't.

Q    All right. Talk about a reward from the family in this case?

A    I don't remember the specifics about a reward, because I -- my recollection was, Mitch cut them off pretty short when he even mentioned the word "reward."

Q    But you haven't been working for the university or with Mitch Whidden for over a year now; is that right?

A    That's about right, about a year.


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MR. LLOYD: All right. Thank you, Mr. Yeatts. That's all I have.

THE COURT: Step down, sir.

(The witness left the witness stand.)

THE COURT: Members of the jury, we'll take our evening recess. You'll need to be back in the morning at 9:30. Please report to the jury room at 9:30. Please remember the jury responsibility sheet.

Have a nice evening. I'll see you tomorrow. Everyone else please remain seated.

(The jury left the courtroom at 5:09 p.m.)

THE COURT: You may declare a recess until 9:30 in the morning, sheriff.

(A recess was taken at 5:10 p.m., until 9:30 a.m. Thursday, August 20, 1998.)

 

 

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