Kidnapping case ... Woman acquitted of all charges|
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
Yesterday a jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges against Laura Kilmer, 40, of DuBois, who was accused of kidnapping her daughter, following a two-day trial before Judge Paul Cherry at the Clearfield County Courthouse.
Kilmer was charged with kidnap to facilitate a felony, kidnap to inflict injury/terror, and interference with the custody of children. The kidnapping-interference with a public official had been dropped.
According to testimony at trial, the defendant and her husband, Joseph Kilmer, were engaged in a custody dispute over their four-year-old daughter. Laura Kilmer had been granted temporary custody on Dec. 10, 2010, pending a hearing scheduled for Dec. 17, 2010, but on Dec. 16, 2010 at 3 a.m. Kilmer took the girl and fled in her Ford Explorer first to Ohio, then to Florida before they were apprehended by U.S. Marshals in the Salt Lake City area of Utah on Feb. 28, 2011.
After she failed to appear at the Dec. 17 hearing, the court awarded Joseph Kilmer partial custody starting Dec. 24, 2010. When Laura Kilmer failed to produce the girl, the courts gave Joseph Kilmer full custody on Jan 4, 2011.
The jury of eight women and four men spent approximately three-and-a-half hours deliberating.
During deliberations, the jury re-entered the courtroom three times to ask Judge Cherry questions, and at one point notified Cherry that they were deadlocked on one charge but had reached a verdict on two charges.
When Cherry asked, the jury foreman said they might be able to reach a verdict if given more time; and the jury deliberated for about another hour or so before returning the not guilty verdict.
The first time the jury re-entered the courtroom was to ask if they could see the certified letters that were sent to Kilmer notifying her of her upcoming custody hearings but were returned undelivered and asked if a written copy of the law could be sent back to the jury room. Cherry let them view the letters but not their contents and did not allow them to have a written copy of the law.
The second time was to ask Cherry to re-read all of the elements in the interference with the custody of children charge and the third was to ask for a definition of "temporary custody" and to have the elements of the interference with the custody of children read again.
After court was adjourned, Laura Kilmer wept and embraced her family who were sitting behind her in the gallery.
Laura Kilmer's attorney Michael Marshall said he was pleased with how the trial went even before the verdict.
"Even before the verdict, I thought the trial went much better than expected from my standpoint," Marshall said.
Following the trial, Shaw said they knew it would be a difficult case but said it was important; for parents need to resolve custody issues in court and not abscond with their children. And despite the loss in the courtroom, Shaw said great work by law enforcement was successful in reuniting the girl with her father and if Laura Kilmer wants some custody of their daughter she will have to go through the courts to do so.
The day started with Laura Kilmer continuing her testimony on the stand. Her testimony yesterday was less emotional than it was on Monday when she wept much of the time on the stand while accusing her husband of abuse and threatening to kill her and her daughter if they appeared at the Dec. 17 custody hearing under direct questioning by her attorney Mike Marshall.
Monday ended with Kilmer refusing to answer Shaw's question on whether she went to Florida after leaving Pennsylvania. Kilmer refused to answer saying she was invoking her rights under the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination but Shaw argued she had waived those rights by taking the stand and Cherry ordered her to answer the question but still she refused.
After a brief conference with the defendant Marshall asked the court if his client could have the night to think on it.
Yesterday, she agreed to answer Shaw's question, saying after they left Pennsylvania, she went to Ohio first and then went to Orlando, Fla., to stay with some relatives.
Under questioning by Shaw she admitted to getting a pre-paid Master Card credit card using a fictitious name and switched the license plate on her vehicle with an old plate she had in her basement from previous vehicle she had owned. She said she did these things to avoid detection by her husband.
She said they stayed in Florida a couple of weeks before leaving for Utah. She said it took them about a week to get there for she drove about 300 miles a day.
Peggy Peterson Bynum, a cousin of the defendant who lives in Ohio, also testified on behalf of the defense.
She testified in December of 2010 she saw Laura Kilmer at her sister's house in Plain City, Ohio. She said Laura Kilmer was very jumpy and said she was sad because she failed to keep her marriage together and said she told her that her husband was now refusing to go to marriage counseling.
When asked if she would be surprised if Laura Kilmer was in fear of her husband killing her and her daughter she said no and said she had seen Laura and Joe Kilmer interact with each other but no other details were given.
During his closing, Marshall argued that his client was not guilty of the crimes as charged by the prosecution. He said she was not guilty of kidnapping because at the time she still had temporary custody of the child and therefore she did not meet all the elements of the crime.
As for the interference with the custody of a child charge, he admitted that his client made some bad decisions but said she was under tremendous pressure, fear and anxiety at the time. Marshall argued that under the law, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not sincerely believe that her child was in danger if they attempted to go to the hearing.
Even if this belief is completely irrational, Marshall said it is a blanket defense if she is sincere in belief that her child is in danger.
"Is she a criminal or is she a mixed up mother trying to do the best she could," Marshall asked.
Marshall also made a jurisdictional argument saying the crimes did not occur in Clearfield County because she still had full temporary custody of the girl when she left Clearfield County and therefore the case should have never been tried in Clearfield County.
In his closing Shaw argued that Kilmer had not fled out of fear and instead had been planning the kidnapping for quite some time.
He argued that she wasn't motivated by fear but control. He said Laura Kilmer absconded before their custody hearing because she did not want her husband to have any custody rights to their daughter. He argued that she wanted complete control over where, when and how often he could see their daughter and when that control was about to be taken away, she took off and kidnapped their daughter.
He pointed out the entire time she was on the run, not once did she go to a courthouse in Ohio, Florida or Utah and make her case before a judge where she was far from her husband.
Instead she made every attempt to evade the law by using a fake name to get a credit card and switching the license plates on her vehicle.
Shaw said the angry and belligerent telephone messages she left on her husband's voicemail show that she is not in fear of her husband.
Shaw argued that in a civilized society people go to court to resolve custody issues; they don't just take their children and run.
He also asked what would have happened to the little girl if police had not arrested Laura Kilmer, if she would have still been living out of a car with Laura Kilmer and if her father would have ever gotten to see his daughter again.
"Joseph Kilmer may have never seen ‘his daughter' again and that's not fair and that's not justice," Shaw said.
The Progress does not reveal the names of juveniles involved in court cases.