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Ronnie Lee Kimble 

                                                  

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Time of Death


The State produced several witnesses to establish the time of death for the Jury, but did not produce any eye witnesses to confirm Ronnie's presence at or near the residence at the time of death.  The State did, however, vigorously attack Ronnie Kimble's alibi for that time period to prove that he had the means and the opportunity. 

 

4Timeline for the murder/arson and its discovery

4The Detectives

4The Forensic Pathologist

4The Arson experts

4Observations of the Neighbors

4Observations of first person on site

4Ronnie Kimble's alibi

4James Stump's Observations

 

Timeline for the murder/arson and its discovery

3:25 - 3:30 p.m. Patricia left work to go home.
3:30 - 3:45 p.m. Patricia spoke briefly to Barry Braswell at a stoplight at the intersection of Creek Ridge Road and Randleman Road.  Patricia was in the right lane and continued straight when the light turned green.  She was headed into town. 
4:00 p.m. Nancy Young telephoned Patricia at home, but Patricia did not answer.
8:11 p.m. Ted paged Patricia and left his page number.
8:15 p.m. Ted called Reuben and asked him to go over and check on Patricia.
8:21 p.m. Reuben paged Patricia.
8:31 p.m. Reuben paged Patricia a second time, just before leaving home to go to Patricia's.
8:42 p.m. Reuben called 911 after arriving at Patricia's and discovering the fire.
8:40 - 8:45 p.m. David Vickrey received emergency page about the fire at Patricia's and responded directly to the house.
**9:00 p.m.** Firefighters begin putting out fire.

**estimate.  No one testified to the exact time the fire trucks arrived or how much time it took them to setup and start fighting the fire.

 

The Detectives

Under direct examination, both Detective Church and Special Agent Pendergrass said at some point in the investigation they determined the time of death to be shortly after 4:00 p.m. 

James D. Church
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Q    In the course of your investigation, were you able to determine the time of death of Patricia Kimble?
A    Yes.
Q    What time?
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A    Shortly after 4:00 o'clock.

 

Harold G. Pendergrass

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Q   And to the best of -- at that point in your investigation, had you fixed the approximate time of death of Patricia Kimble?
A   Sometime around 4:00 p.m. or thereafter.

However, on cross examination, Pendergrass conceded a 2-hour window of time, putting the time of death as late as 6:00 p.m. 

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Q   Now, you just got through telling Mr. Panosh that at some point while you were interviewing these various witnesses, that you had determined the time of Patricia's death, didn't you? Did you just say you determined the time of Patricia's death?
A   Through the course of our investigation, it was -- it was not totally determined, but we -- during the investigation, we felt like it may have been sometime around 4:00 o'clock or thereafter.
Q   Or thereafter?
A   Yes, sir.
Q   And how much time does thereafter encompass?
A   Well, it could be shortly thereafter or one hour
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thereafter.
Q   So, are you saying to the jury that you determined her death and it was sometime between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.?
A   I haven't personally determined the time. That would be left up to the medical examiner. I've not determined that -‑
Q   But you just -‑
A   -- made that determination.
Q   You just were asked the question concerning whether or not, based upon your knowledge of the investigation, you've been able to determine the time of Patricia's death, and your answer to that was, yes, 4:00 p.m. or thereafter?
A   Yes, sir, based upon my knowledge of the investigation.
Q   And that was --
A   That's all I can state, that it was based upon my knowledge of the investigation, around 4:00 or shortly thereafter.
Q   Well, now, you said shortly thereafter.
A   Well, shortly thereafter meaning one hour.
Q   Could it be two hours?
A   Could be.
Q   Could be?
A   Could be.
Q  
So it could have happened between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.; is that your testimony?
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A   Could be.
Q   Could it be three hours?
A   I don't think it could be three hours, no.

The Forensic Pathologist

 

Patricia died from the gunshot wound to the head before the fire was started, according to the Karen Chancellor, the Forensic Pathologist who performed the autopsy. Other than this, Chancellor offered no opinion on time of death. 

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Q   Based on the nature of the wound and the extent of damage caused as a result of the wound, could you give an estimate as to how quickly death ensued after the wound was inflicted?
A   After Ms. Kimble received this gunshot wound to the head, death would have ensued very rapidly. She would be immediately unconscious, and all signs of life, including respirations and heartbeats, would cease after a few seconds or a minute.
Q   And you did do an examination of the lungs --
A   Yes.
Q   -- for the purpose of determining whether there was soot, evidence of smoke; is that correct?
A   Yes.
Q   And what did you find?
A   I did not find the presence of any soot in the lungs or
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in the trachea. When I examine any burned body, there are certain things that I look for, to determine whether the person was alive at the time of the fire or dead. One of those things is the presence of soot in the upper airways or lung tissue. If the person breathed in air that contained soot during a fire, I would expect to see those inside the lung or in the airway. I did not see those in Ms. Kimble's body.
Q   And that would be consistent with death occurring prior to the burning?
A   Yes.

The Arson Experts

 

This group of experts gave opinions on how long the fire had burned, thus providing some insight into time of death because the State argued that the fire was started immediately after the murder and they were one continuous action. 

 

Edward Rich (Supervisor, Fire Inspection and Investigation Unit, Guilford County Department of Emergency Services) estimated that the fire burned at least 2 to 3 hours, possibly longer.  That points to 6:00 - 7:00 p.m. as the start time for the fire.

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Q   All right. In terms of your opinion as to when it started, are you able to put a time on the actual time that it was started, that it was set?
A   With the amount of damage and the nature in which the fire burned, as well as the material which was involved with
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that burning process, this was a very lengthy and intense fire over a prolonged period of time. In my opinion, it could have been at least two to three hours, and possibly even longer than that. The floor beneath the body had burned slam through. That takes a long time.

Jerry D. Webster (Special Agent, Arson and Fire investigation, State Bureau of Investigation) estimated that the fire burned in excess of 2 hours.  He does not offer the opinion that it could have burned four hours or more until he is specifically asked if anything in his findings is inconsistent with it burning four hours.  This puts the start of the fire to about 5:00 p.m.

394

A   If I may explain. The specific reason that I was there was to try to examine the scene and form an opinion that was satisfactory to myself, about how long this fire had burned. After conducting my investigation, my observations and my mental and physical notes, I was able to form an opinion satisfactory to myself about the time that -- the length of time that this fire probably burned.
Q   And what was that opinion?
A   It's my opinion that this fire burned in what I would best describe as an open-burning state, that is, open fire, open flame, visible flame, burned furiously because of the quantity of gasoline that was there, for a very short period of time.
After the oxygen in the house was consumed by this furious-burning state, the fire was reduced to a smolder. There was not enough air or oxygen, that is, in the atmosphere inside the house to support this open-burning state. What little material was ignited by the gasoline burning was reduced to a smoldering state, glowing embers, like a cigarette head, like hot coal -- or like coals from a fireplace, with no open flame. This type of smoldering burning, in my opinion, continued in this house for a period in excess of two hours.
And if I may further explain in excess of two hours. This fire could have burned for what I believe to be an
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indefinite period in excess of two hours, from the time that the oxygen in the house was depleted below that which would support combustion.
<<<

A   I am not able to give an estimate of the amount of
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time, the precise amount of time, give or take any number of hours, about the length of time that this fire burned, from the time that it was first ignited, to the time that the fire department arrived and extinguished the fire. It's my opinion that this fire did indeed burn longer than two hours.
<<<

Q   Anything in your findings that would be inconsistent with this fire burning for a period of time of four hours?
MR. HATFIELD: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled.
A   I believe this fire could have burned for four hours or more.

Observations of the Neighbors

 

David Vickrey, a neighbor who lived a few thousand feet from Brandon Street Court, said he smelled smoke about 5:45-5:50 p.m. and again about 8:15 p.m.  Vickrey said he drove past Brandon Station Court about 5:30, and was within 500 feet of Patricia's house but did not notice anything.  About 20 minutes later, while in his backyard, he said he smelled something burning, but assumed it was the neighbor burning something trash in his trash barrel.  Again at 8:15 when he was returning home and getting out of his truck, he smelled it again.  (224-225) 

 

Nattlie Cooper Dickerson, a neighbor who lived at 2202 Brandon Station Rd. (A on the map), a distance of .2 miles from Patricia's house (B on the map), saw a light smoky haze over the trees.

 

596
A   It was around
6:00 o'clock.
Q   And after you got home, did you make any observations or notice anything?
A   Not until I went out on my deck, to start the grill. And when I was coming back around, to go back into the house, I looked over, and above the trees, you could just see a light, smoky haze.
Q   And when you say you looked over, where did you look over?
A   Toward where Patricia Kimble's home was, but you couldn't see the home at all from my house. It looked like
Q   So --
A   -- somebody was maybe burning leaves. It was just a haze over the trees, real light haze.
Q   So the house on Brandon Station Court itself is obscured by trees?
A Yes, sir.


Paul Fryar, whose side yard faces Hwy 22, saw some low smoke hovering four or five feet above the ground in the clearing between the Coble house (B on the map) and the Kimble house (A on the map).  He said he saw this smoke about 6:15-6:30 p.m. (592).  However, he did not smell smoke (594).

 

Helen Coble said that she and her husband were not burning trash that day.  She also said that they did not notice anything at the Kimble property, and were not aware of the fire until they heard the fire engines.  (587)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First-responder observations

 

Reuben Blakely and his wife were the first on the scene.  He made the following observations when he first arrived at Patricia's home about 8:40 p.m.

A   When we pulled in the driveway, I had -- I smelled a faint smell of smoke, and begin worrying at that point. But I drove on up in the driveway, and Patricia's car was parked on the left side of the driveway, and I pulled up to the right and turned on my bright lights, so I could see what was going on, because there wasn't -- there was not any light on in the house or around the house, so it was real dark. I turned on my bright lights, so we could see what was there, what was in front of us. And we got -- left the truck running, so the lights would be on, and got out of the
78
truck and went up to the door inside the garage and smelled smoke and seen smoke inside the garage, and felt of the door, and it was -- it was hot. So I turned around and told my wife, Christie, to go to the front door and see if it was hot, as well. And she said it was. So at that time, I went back to the truck and called 911.

Reuben, right in the driveway, only smelled a "faint smell of smoke" and did not see any smoke until he went into the garage.  Furthermore, Reuben did not report seeing any smoke around the house:

A   I walked around the house, trying to find some evidence maybe what was going on. I looked under the crawl space and seen fire up underneath the house. And I walked around the house, and I probably made one round around the house and Mr. Vickrey from the Pleasant Garden Fire Department was pulling in the driveway at that time. (132)
>>>

Q   Was smoke coming out of the vents for the crawl space?
A   I do not remember much amount of smoke. I remember smelling smoke, and I remember looking under there and
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seeing flames underneath the house.
Q   That was when you opened the crawl space door?
A   Yes, I did that, also. I also could see flames through the foundation vents.

Ronnie Kimble's alibi

 

This is the timeline provided by Ronnie, his wife, and the Stumps (his in-laws) for the time period from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. -- the range of time for the Time of Death. 

3:00 Ronnie calls Kim, says he is getting a saw blade from Ted at Lyles

3:10-3:15 Ronnie leaves for Lyles <27 minute drive>

3:30-3:35 Ronnie arrives at Lyles

4:15 Ronnie leaves Lyles to return home

4:50 James Stump visits Ronnie, helps him with the underpinning

5:35 Stump leaves to go home

5:40 Kim arrives home from work, Ronnie is there

6:15 Ronnie and Kim arrive at the Stumps

7:00 Ronnie and Kim leave the Stumps

7:36 Ronnie and Kim make purchase at Winn-Dixie

In his closing argument, Mr. Panosh challenged Ronnie's afternoon visit to Lyles.  Ronnie did not produce a single witness to confirm his presence at Lyles that afternoon. 

Have you heard from Billy Smith? Have you heard from James Ogburn? Have you heard from anyone who can support Ronnie's alibi? That was up to 5:40 (sic).
Of course, you heard from Mr. Stump who said about 5:50 -- excuse me,
4:50 to 5:00, he arrived. There's no question Ronnie has an alibi thereafter. But the time of the murder, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is 4, 4:15. Because all the evidence shows Patricia left her work that day about 3:30, and she was planning to go and cut the grass. She was seen about 3:40. And you saw right there the location where she was seen. It's on this diagram.
Mr. Hatfield says it's not a complete diagram,
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and I agree it's not a complete diagram, but it gives you a general feeling of where all the places are.
She was right here. Just ten, twelve, fifteen minutes away from her residence. And that sometime between 4, or maybe 4:15, if she had to run an errand, she returned to that residence. When she returned to that residence, there was something in that driveway, a vehicle she recognized, because she wouldn't have gone in if it wasn't a vehicle she recognized.

What Mr. Panosh did not tell the Jury is that James Ogburn provided a signed statement (May 31, 1997) saying he would cooperate and help in any way he could in the investigation of Ted Kimble.  Included in this statement is Ogburn's account of his participation in removing the color codes from the stolen lumber.  Before that signed statement, Ogburn confirmed that Ronnie was at Lyles that afternoon.  He gave a statement to Dave North saying he saw Ronnie there at 3:45 - 4:30.  The Defense Counsel's failure to call Ogburn and Smith, or Dave North to confirm what Ogburn told him, is unexplainable. 

 

Detective Church testified that it was only a 10 minute drive from Patricia's home to Ronnie's home, and that is why Panosh emphasizes that no one can support Ronnie's alibi up to 4:40, as Ronnie had to have the job done in order to get home by 4:50, when James Stump arrived.

Q   Now, when you make these -- when you record these minutes, what speed are you driving?
A   The normal posted speed. That's allowing for traffic
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signals, traffic. And these times were done in 3:00, 4:00 o'clock, during the day.
Q   And did there come a time when you made further measurements and observations?
A   Yes, I did. From Brandon Station Court, which is Number 3 on the legend, the home of Ted and Patricia Kimble, to Number 2, Ronnie Kimble residence, was 8.3 miles, takes 10 minutes to drive it.

Since Panosh, on behalf of the State, accepted Ronnie's alibi from 4:50 on, then the time of death must be sometime before 4:40, to give Ronnie time to get home.  Given the ca. 9:00 time for the firemen starting to put out the fire, that's 4 hours and 20 minutes minimum required for the fire to burn.  That's why Jerry Webster's expert opinion that the fire might have burned 4 hours or more was so critical to the State's case.

 

However, in the rebuttal argument, Panosh attacks another portion of Ronnie's alibi - the time he was alone or was with Kim.  This involved two time periods, from 5:35-6:15 and from 7:00 on, but Panosh is referring to 7:00 on as he specifically references the purchase of food. 

You remember what she testified? She said that I was with my -- with Ronnie all that night and that we - went out and we went to the supermarket, and we saw Ms. Williford.
And again I say to you where is Ms. Williford?
And what did we do? We went and bought stuffed flounder -- two stuffed flounders and some potato tots I think she said. She bought a meal for that hungry marine for $4.06. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if she can buy a meal for the two of them for $4.06, then the Marine Corps needs her because they'd love to be able to feed people for that amount of money. It didn't
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happen. She simply was not telling you the truth.
The reason that Ms. Williford isn't here is because Ms. Williford didn't see Ronnie that day.
And if in fact Ronnie was seen in the area of the fire, it's quite possible that it was because he was not with Kimberly, as she said, because this, if anything, is a meal for one, not a meal for two.

Although the 7 p.m. time is still within the framework of Rich's estimated burn time, Panosh made no effort to account for Patricia's whereabouts or activities if the murder/arson occurred about 7 p.m.  He simply offered it to the jury as a possibility, with no opportunity for the Defense to counter.

 

James Stump's observations

 

Besides confirming that Ronnie was at home at 4:50, working on the underpinning, Stump also confirmed a few other critical facts:

  • Ronnie did have the saw he said he had gone to Ted's to get, and he immediately told Stump that he had borrowed it from Ted that afternoon

  • Ronnie did not show any unusual emotion or nervousness, such as might be expected from someone who had just murdered a sister-in-law and set her and her house on fire

  • Ronnie had made progress on the project, and had about 12 posts in place

  • Ronnie did not have any smell of gasoline on his clothes or shoes

Mr. Panosh noted that no arsonist would be so careless as to spill gasoline on his clothes or shoes, but just being around the gasoline can transfer the odor to clothing.  Stump would have been able to detect the slightest odor because of his work experience.

 

 

Published August 15, 2006.  Report broken links or other problems.

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