Merrill “Mike” Kimball remained free on bail after pleading not guilty Thursday to a charge of murdering a man in an altercation last month in North Yarmouth.

Wearing a button-down shirt, glasses and a neatly cropped white beard, Kimball, who is 70, said “not guilty” loudly and assertively when Justice Thomas Warren asked for his plea in the shooting death of Leon Kelley, 63, of Georgetown.

Under an agreement between Kimball’s attorney and state prosecutors, Kimball was allowed to post $100,000 worth of property to secure his bail pending a trial, which won’t happen before late next year.

Kimball, a lobsterman from Yarmouth, is accused of shooting Kelley multiple times in the torso on Oct. 6 outside Brown’s Bee Farm in North Yarmouth. Kimball was there with his wife, Karen Thurlow-Kimball, who worked at the bee farm and was retrieving honey she had collected, according to Kimball’s attorney.

Kelley had been next door visiting his father-in-law, Stan Brown, who owns the business. Brown has said he asked Kelley to keep Kimball away from the business.

Both sides agree that Kelley pushed Kimball in the confrontation and Kimball shot him.

Kimball’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, said after the hearing in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court that his client was defending himself and his wife, who he said was also pushed.

“Obviously, he has to be held responsible for what he has done, but if he did it in self-defense, then no crime has been committed,” Lilley said.

He said the state’s decision not to arrest Kimball and allow him to be free on bail indicates the case against him is not strong.

“My client was being pushed, was being assaulted … and at some point defended himself the only way he had,” Lilley said after the arraignment. “I don’t believe they think it’s a strong case for murder.”

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes had a different explanation for why the state took the unusual, though not unprecedented, step of agreeing to bail in a murder case.

He said a judge likely would have found Kimball a good candidate for bail regardless of what the state said. Kimball has no criminal record and has been cooperative with police, he said.

Rather than go through a bail hearing that likely would have resulted in Kimball’s release, the prosecutors agreed to allow bail with certain conditions.

Stokes said bail is intended to ensure that a defendant appears in court. As part of Kimball’s bail conditions, authorities confiscated his passport.

Justice Warren imposed other agreed-upon bail conditions, including removing all guns from Kimball’s house, prohibiting him from using alcohol, and prohibiting him from having contact with many of Kelley’s family members, some of whom attended Thursday’s arraignment.

Kelley’s brothers have said they are disappointed that Kimball was not arrested and has remained free. They say Kimball has gotten special treatment.

Stokes said authorities decided not to arrest Kimball to give investigators a chance to do a thorough investigation. Otherwise, prosecutors would have had to appear before a judge within 48 hours after the arrest to show the case they had against him.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com