Accused kidnapper's trial under way|
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
The trial of a DuBois woman accused of kidnapping her 4-year-old daughter and going on the lam for several months before she was caught by federal marshals in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area got under way before Judge Paul Cherry yesterday at the Clearfield County Courthouse.
Laura Kilmer, 40, of DuBois is charged with kidnap to facilitate a felony, kidnap to inflict injury/terror, kidnapping-interference with a public official and interference with the custody of children.
The defendant's husband, Joseph Kilmer, was the first witness to take the stand for the commonwealth. Under questioning by Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr., Joseph Kilmer testified that he and the defendant were married March of 2002 and originally they lived in Strattanville but later moved to New Bethlehem soon after their daughter was born in 2006.
The Progress does not identify minors in court cases.
He said in the first few months after their daughter was born, everything was going well and said it was an exciting time for them because it was their first child.
He said at first he was not working because he was in the process of finishing his Bachelor of Science degree in psychology at Clarion University, but said he eventually got a job working in a crisis center in Butler County.
Although things went well at first, two or three months after their daughter was born, he said his wife's demeanor began to change. He said she became very suspicious of almost everyone associated with their daughter, including himself, pediatricians and family members.
Joseph Kilmer testified that his wife even refused to allow him to be alone with their daughter unless there was a baby monitor nearby so she could hear them.
He said his wife had gone to college sporadically but stopped after their daughter was born and said she began to spend more and more time on the Internet reading about conspiracy theories.
Because of her paranoia she also started talking about needing "escape money" and took out some payday loans using his name, without his permission, and began selling the appliances in their home to obtain some escape money.
She also refused to allow him to take their daughter to doctors' appointments and after they had their daughter undergo a procedure to treat constipation, Laura Kilmer said to him, "How could you stand there and let them molest our daughter in front of us?"
She was also suspicious of their family members, especially his mother, and once demanded that they cut off all contact with both sides of their family.
Because of this he said their relationship became strained and she often threw him out of their house.
In the summer of 2010, she demanded he leave their home and threatened to call the police if he did not. He said he complied and went to live with his father in Brockway. Soon after she informed him that she was going to New Jersey to visit her sister and told him not to return home while they were gone or she would call the police.
While she was in New Jersey, Joseph Kilmer said he became concerned because he had difficulty getting in contact with his wife and only got to talk to his daughter sporadically over the phone. Eventually, Laura Kilmer demanded that he move to New Jersey if he wanted to see his daughter again.
Joseph Kilmer said he could not do this because he was still in the process of finishing his last semester at Clarion and said he did not have the financial resources to do so, and said they still had a lease on their home in New Bethlehem.
Joseph Kilmer testified that he then sought legal counsel and his lawyer filed a petition for joint custody.
Upon hearing this, Joseph Kilmer said his wife became enraged and demanded that he "drop the lawyers" or she would take their daughter and go "off the grid" or "underground" and said he would never see their daughter again. She threatened that if they were about to get caught she would kill their daughter and kill herself.
He said his wife owned a handgun and had the ability to carry out her threat.
He agreed to drop the petition and when she returned home, they both agreed that they would try to work out their differences and he moved back in and they began marriage counseling.
But he said her paranoia was getting worse as time went on and her threats to go underground and kill herself and their daughter became more and more frequent to the point where she would make the threats anytime she wanted something.
He again moved out of the house and only got to see his daughter occasionally. When he did get to see his daughter, he would set up all their visits in public places because he could not trust his wife.
In fall 2010, Laura Kilmer left a series of profanity-laced messages on her husband's voicemail. In one message that Shaw played for the jury, she threatened to go into protective hiding or protective custody.
Despite the threats, Joseph Kilmer went ahead with the custody hearing, which was scheduled for Dec. 17.
On Dec. 3, he met his wife and their daughter at McDonalds in DuBois. She again demanded he drop the hearing and said if he did not, she was not going to go and would disappear and he would never see their daughter again.
He refused and at the Dec. 17 custody hearing, his wife did not show up just as she had threatened. Her attorney was at the hearing but she was not.
The judge granted him partial supervised custody starting Dec. 24, but again, Laura Kilmer failed to show or bring their daughter.
Joseph Kilmer petitioned for another custody hearing and on Jan. 4 he was awarded full custody by the courts. But Laura Kilmer still did not respond.
He then informed the DuBois City Police and later the DuBois-based state police who enlisted the assistance of the U.S. Marshal Service. On Feb. 28 he received a call from the U.S. Marshal Service in Salt Lake City that they had apprehended Laura Kilmer and his daughter was safe.
"I was ecstatic," Joseph Kilmer said.
He said he and his father took the next plane out to Salt Lake City to recover his daughter.
He said she has lived with him ever since, is now six years old and is doing well.
James Phelps, supervisor of the U.S. Marshals Service in Salt Lake City, testified saying they received word that Laura Kilmer was wanted for kidnapping and could possibly be nearby for she had a sister that lived in the area. He said they were informed that she was armed and had made threats to kill herself and her daughter if she thought they would be caught.
He testified he went to Laura Kilmer's apartment complex in West Valley, Utah, and observed a Ford Explorer matching Laura Kilmer's in the parking lot and determined the license plates matched her vehicle.
He decided against trying to apprehend her in the apartment complex and instead decided to place the vehicle under surveillance and wait for a time when Laura Kilmer was separated from her daughter to ensure the girl's safety.
Late on Feb. 27, Phelps was informed by deputies that Laura Kilmer's vehicle was on the move. He said from a distance, he observed Laura Kilmer's vehicle alone in a mall parking lot with another vehicle late at night.
Through binoculars he could see that she was saying goodbye to someone in the other vehicle and came to the conclusion that she was leaving town. There was a 7-11 gas station nearby and speculated that she would likely get gas there before she left and formulated a plan to recover the girl.
He said he believed she would likely pay cash for her gasoline to avoid detection from using a credit card and informed members of his team to confront Laura Kilmer when she went inside to pay, while he and another deputy would rescue the child.
Laura Kilmer acted as expected and went to the gas station. After pumping her gasoline, she left the girl in the unlocked car.
Phelps said they had to forcibly apprehend Laura Kilmer because she was very violent and angry.
He and another deputy recovered the girl safely. Phelps said the girl was in good health and was in surprisingly good spirits for a young girl being separated from her mother.
"She really was a sweet little girl to deal with," Phelps testified.
He said it appeared Laura Kilmer and her daughter were living in their vehicle. He said the vehicle was packed and the only place that was not cluttered was the front seat and the passenger seat. He was concerned about the living conditions inside the vehicle.
A loaded handgun was also recovered underneath the front passenger seat inside a gun case.
Laura Kilmer testified in her own defense. She denied ever threatening to kill her daughter or herself and said it was her husband who was making such threats. She testified under direct questioning by her attorney, Michael Marshall of Clearfield, that Joseph Kilmer was very controlling and said she had lived in fear of him for the last 12 years.
"We lived on eggshells every day of our lives," Laura Kilmer testified.
She testified that she went to New Jersey to visit her sister to get a break from him. While there, she said her husband repeatedly called and harassed her.
She said she cut her trip short and came home after he threatened to file kidnapping charges against her and would take custody of their daughter.
She testified that she repeatedly made accommodations for him to see their daughter and she usually set up the visits.
At the Dec. 3 meeting at McDonalds, she said they got in an argument and he spiraled out of control and threatened to kill her if she tried to show up for the Dec. 17 hearing.
She decided to take their daughter and leave.
When she put their daughter in the car seat, she said Joseph Kilmer pushed her out of the way and started screaming in their daughter's face that she was going to kill her.
When she drove away, he followed her to her parents' house in DuBois where she was living and continued to harass them to the point she had to call the police.
Because of her fear of her husband, Laura Kilmer packed her things and left in the Ford Explorer with her daughter and dogs in the early morning hours of Dec. 16.
She said they first went to relatives in Ohio before going to her sister's in Salt Lake City.
Shaw cross-examined her and it often became heated to the point where Judge Cherry warned them both several times.
Shaw questioned why, if she was in such fear of her husband, that she would leave these messages on her husband's voicemail and he replayed them to the jury.
Laura Kilmer said when she left those messages she was very angry and frustrated and did not fear him at that moment because he was not there.
When Shaw asked what states she visited after leaving Pennsylvania and before arriving in Utah, she again said Ohio.
When Shaw asked her if she had gone to Florida Laura Kilmer went silent for several moments before saying she was invoking the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
Shaw argued by testifying here she waived this right and demanded she answer the question but still she refused. Shaw then asked the judge to have her answer the question, which he did, but she still refused.
Marshall then asked for a recess to speak with his client.
After approximately 15 minutes, Marshall asked Cherry to allow his client to wait until the next day since they were about to recess for the day. He thought the extra time might help change her mind.
Cherry agreed but said if she does not answer the question today there better be a good explanation why.
The trial is scheduled to wrap up today.