Sunday’s fatal shooting at a beekeeping business in North Yarmouth was self-defense, said the lawyer for the man who police say fired the gun.
Merrill “Mike” Kimball, 70, of Yarmouth allegedly shot Leon Kelley, 63, of Georgetown multiple times during a confrontation in front of Brown’s Bee Farm, which is behind 239 Greely Road.
“It appears to be a clear case of self-defense,” Daniel Lilley, Kimball’s attorney, said Tuesday. “I think the state, obviously, by letting him go, has come to that conclusion.”
State law enforcement officials said Tuesday that they have not reached any conclusions in the case and are working to determine whether the shooting was a crime or a justified act. A spokesman said the Maine State Police will not release its reports on the case at this stage of the investigation.
Lilley said Kimball and his wife were hurt in an altercation with Kelley that preceded the shooting, but not seriously.
Kimball was on the property to help his wife, Karen Thurlow-Kimball, who works at Brown’s Bee Farm, retrieve the honey she had processed, Lilley said.
“She was going there to pick up her honey. Her husband came with her because it’s like 50 pounds a container,” Lilley said. “They were going to put it in the truck. I don’t think there was anything unusual about it.”
Police said they have not arrested Kimball because he does not pose a threat to the community and they are still trying to sort out what led to the gunfire.
Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said the case might be presented to a grand jury, which would determine whether a felony indictment is warranted. No such decision has been made.
The incident occurred outside the home and business of Stan Brown, in a section of North Yarmouth off Greely Road. Lilley said the fact that Kimball was carrying a gun does not mean he anticipated a confrontation.
“This guy has a concealed-weapon permit and carries a gun in his holster, and has as a matter of habit for many years,” said Lilley.
Lilley said he would not discuss the reasons for the confrontation, but that it quickly became violent. He said Kelley was the aggressor.
“I don’t think he swung at him, but I think (Kimball) got pushed pretty hard,” Lilley said.
He described it as a “David and Goliath” confrontation because he said Kimball is 5 feet 10 inches tall and slender, while Kelley was well over 6 feet tall, bulky, with “hands like catcher’s mitts and apparently a very likable guy, but a guy who is quite formidable-looking.
“My client was struck, but he didn’t break bones or have any teeth knocked out,” Lilley said. “His wife was bruised. Both of them were injured, but not severely.”
Brown, 93, is a fixture in beekeeping, well-known throughout the eastern seaboard, said Andrew Dewey, a beekeeper in Washington County who is on the board of directors of the Maine State Beekeepers Association.
Thurlow-Kimball has been working with Brown in the beekeeping business for about five years. In a recent article in the American Bee Journal, a publication for beekeeping enthusiasts, Thurlow-Kimball described Brown as a mentor and said she had begun managing the business, which sells beekeeping supplies such as hives and medicine.
Thurlow-Kimball said in the article that Brown’s Bee Farm maintains 54 hives, 51 of them her hives and three of them Brown’s. The operation, described by other beekeepers as “good-sized” for Maine but small nationally, produces about 1,900 pounds of honey a year, selling for about $5 a pound.
Recently, Brown’s family became concerned that Thurlow-Kimball was taking advantage of the relationship, said his daughter, Anne Brown. She would not elaborate.
Stan Brown spoke positively Tuesday about Thurlow-Kimball, saying she is a good, knowledgeable beekeeper who works hard and learned quickly. He said he had issues with her husband, who was not allowed on the property. Brown said Kimball has “problems.”
“There’s something wrong with this. Who brings a gun … and to shoot a man?” said Brown. “You got a problem, why don’t you call a deputy sheriff? He shot a good man dead.”
Brown said Kimball was not allowed to come to the business or be on the property, and Kelley was telling him to leave when he was shot.
“Leon would do anything you asked,” Brown said fondly. “He was looking out for (the business).”
Lilley said reports that Kimball had been stealing from the business are erroneous.
Neither Kimball nor Kelley had a criminal record, according to the state Bureau of Identification.
According to records maintained by the state Department of Agriculture, Thurlow-Kimball has a permit to collect and process honey at Brown’s Bee Farm and has a license to do so.
Soon after she and her husband arrived at the business Sunday, several members of Brown’s extended family showed up, Lilley said.
Police did not indicate that Kimball or Thurlow-Kimball was hurt, and Stokes said he would not comment on specifics of the investigation.
Lilley said he is representing Kimball to make sure his rights are protected, even though he has not been charged.
An autopsy showed that Kelley died from multiple gunshots to the torso.
Lilley said Maine doesn’t have a so-called stand-your-ground law. “What we have is the classic self-defense law that simply says if you are confronted by a force that puts you in jeopardy for seriously bodily harm or death, you may use force necessary to prevent that,” he said.
“In this particular case, that would probably be what the (Attorney General’s Office) is looking at,” Lilley said.
Stokes said the case will be reviewed under the state’s “physical force in defense of a person” statute.
The state law says a person is justified in using deadly force if he or she feels deadly force is being threatened against them or another person. Deadly force is not justified if the person can “with complete safety … retreat from the encounter.”
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: