AUGUSTA — An Oakland woman spent last Wednesday night in jail after refusing to testify in the trial of her husband, who was charged with domestic violence assault and ultimately convicted.
It was the second time in about eight months that a woman named as a victim of domestic violence in Kennebec County had been jailed in connection with a trial.
In September, Jessica Ruiz of Chelsea was arrested as a material witness at the request of District Attorney Maeghan Maloney. Prosecutors believed that she did not intend to testify.
Ruiz spent about 17 hours in jail and later testified in the trial of Robert A. Robinson Jr., who was convicted of domestic violence related to a three-day attack on her.
Last week, Sheila Kimball, 52, failed to honor a subpoena to be a witness in the trial of Richard J. Kimball, 53, of Jefferson. The prosecutor sought an arrest warrant, which was approved by Justice Donald Marden. He ordered Sheila Kimball arrested and brought to Kennebec County Superior Court.
She took the witness stand in the fleece pajamas she was wearing when police arrived at her home.
She took the oath to testify truthfully, gave her name, then remained silent, refusing to answer questions.
Maloney said jurors could see that Sheila Kimball “refused to honor the judge’s directions and refused to answer questions.”
Marden found her in contempt of court and ordered her jailed for 24 hours. She was released from the Kennebec County jail early Thursday afternoon. Under Maine statute, Kimball could have been jailed for as long as 30 days and/or fined as much as $5,000.
Lisa Whittier, the attorney who represented Sheila Kimball at the request of the judge, said Kimball was held in summary contempt because her conduct, which was disruptive to the trial, was committed in the presence of the court.
Maloney said, “Because domestic violence is so complicated and there’s so much going on for victims, I made the decision that we would take no position on whether she would be held in contempt, and I’m not charging her with failure to honor the subpoena.”
Maloney said she wants to speak with people who work with victims of domestic violence “who understand the emotional conflict felt by victims confronting their abuser.” She said that will help her formulate best practices to deal with domestic violence cases
“Is this the right way we should be prosecuting domestic violence?” she said. “I am insisting that victims come to trial, but not prosecuting them for not coming. The reason is, the prosecution is not just for her but for the community. … I cannot leave it in her hands whether or not we prosecute.”
Margo Batsie, program coordinator for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, echoed that sentiment.
“We really walk a fine line between advocating for the victim and really ensuring community safety,” Batsie said. “We do want batterers to be held accountable for their actions. That’s the way for a safer community; that’s the best for everyone.”
Batsie said there has been an increase in cases across the country in which prosecutors have gathered so much evidence that they haven’t had to rely on victims’ testimony.
“It is a shift in practice and … allows a victim to cooperate with the prosecution and not necessarily face the abuser in court,” she said.
The complaint against Richard Kimball said the domestic violence assault occurred Sept. 15 in Oakland.
He was sentenced Monday to nine months in jail, with all but 44 days suspended, and two years’ probation. He started probation immediately because he had been held on the charge for about 45 days.
Conditions of probation require him to attend a certified batterers’ intervention program and domestic violence court. He is not permitted to have contact with his wife until he has completed several counseling sessions and she gives her consent.
“We are considering possibly appealing,” said Kimball’s attorney, Darrick Banda. “The only substantive evidence of a crime came from two sources: a 911 tape, which was admitted, and a hearsay statement to a first responder/paramedic.”
Banda said the basis for an appeal involves the Sixth Amendment, which gives a defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at: