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.
for the murder/arson and its discovery
of the Neighbors
of first person on site
Timeline for the murder/arson and its discovery
|3:25 - 3:30
||Patricia left work to go
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.
Young telephoned Patricia at home, but Patricia did not
||Ted paged Patricia and
left his page number.
||Ted called Reuben and
asked him to go over and check on Patricia.
||Reuben paged Patricia.
||Reuben paged Patricia a
second time, just before leaving home to go to Patricia's.
||Reuben called 911 after
arriving at Patricia's and discovering the fire.
|8:40 - 8:45
||David Vickrey received
emergency page about the fire at Patricia's and responded
directly to the house.
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.
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
Q In the course
of your investigation, were you able to determine the time of
death of Patricia Kimble?
Q What time?
A Shortly after
Harold G. Pendergrass
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
So it could have happened between 4:00 p.m. and
6:00 p.m.; is that your testimony?
A Could be.
Q Could it be three hours?
A I don't think it could be three hours, no.
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.
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
Q And you did do an examination of the lungs --
Q -- for the purpose of determining whether there
was soot, evidence of smoke; is that correct?
Q And what did you find?
A I did not find the presence of any soot in the
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?
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.
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
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
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
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
indefinite period in excess of two hours, from the time that the
oxygen in the house was depleted below that which would support
A I am
not able to give an estimate of the amount of
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.
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
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)
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.
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
Q And when you say you looked over, where did you look
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
(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)
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
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
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:
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)
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
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
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
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
7:00 Ronnie and Kim leave the
7:36 Ronnie and Kim make purchase
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
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,
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
A The normal posted speed. That's allowing for
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
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
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
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
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.