Merrill “Mike” Kimball appeared stunned Wednesday when a jury found him guilty of murder for fatally shooting 63-year-old Leon Kelley at a North Yarmouth bee farm in 2013.

Kimball, 72, of Yarmouth, had been so confident in his claim that he acted in self-defense that he had rejected a plea offer before the trial to a lesser charge of manslaughter.

Now Kimball will likely spend the rest of his life in prison instead of remaining a free man, as he has been since the day of the shooting at Brown’s Bee Farm on Oct. 6, 2013.

Kimball’s wife, Karen Thurlow-Kimball, at first had a blank expression as the jury foreman read the verdict after a lunch break. Then tears began running down her face as the verdict sank in and state police detectives placed her husband in handcuffs.

The jury deliberated for six hours over two days at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

Kimball’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, remained seated long after everyone else had left the courtroom, his associate attorney, Andrew Graham, at his side.

“I don’t get in shock too much because I’ve been in this business so long, but this is a shocker,” Lilley said, adding that he planned to file an appeal.

Justice Roland Cole ordered Kimball held without bail, pending a sentencing date that has not been set. He faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. If he had been convicted of manslaughter, he could have faced from no jail time to up to 30 years in prison.

Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, who prosecuted the case, declined to say whether he had prepared Kelley’s family for the possibility that Kimball would be acquitted or convicted of a lesser charge.

“We’re pleased with the verdict, and we’re satisfied that justice has been done,” Alsop said as he stood in the courthouse hallway with Kelley’s widow, Kathleen Kelley, and Kelley’s brother, William Kelley.

‘JURY SAW THROUGH THE DECEPTION’

Kimball shot Leon Kelley, who lived in Georgetown, during a confrontation at the bee farm owned by Kelley’s father-in-law and where Thurlow-Kimball worked. The confrontation stemmed from a dispute over the ownership of $4,000 to $6,000 worth of honey stored in the bee farm sales shop.

The two men had never met before that day, and Kimball contended that Kelley began assaulting him moments after they introduced themselves. Kelley’s family had gone to the sales shop to intercept Kimball, his wife and her son as the three arrived at the farm to retrieve honey that many witnesses have since acknowledged belonged to Thurlow-Kimball.

Kimball said in recordings played for jurors during the trial that Kelley, who was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 285 pounds, pushed him repeatedly and kept coming at him as Kimball retreated 35 to 40 feet down a driveway. Kimball, who was licensed to carry a concealed gun, pulled a Ruger .380 pistol from his belt and fired three shots into Kelley’s midsection as the larger man kept coming at him, he said.

The shooting at the bee farm off Greely Road followed a bitter, ongoing rift between the families over the business built up by 95-year-old Stan Brown, a master beekeeper well known in the state’s small beekeeping community.

Thurlow-Kimball had started working for Brown at the farm in 2009, and developed a close friendship with the older man, bonding with him over beekeeping. She testified that Brown’s family rarely took an interest in him until just weeks before the shooting, and that she had run Brown’s business for him as his dementia worsened, and cared for him in his family’s absence.

That relationship changed after Brown made Thurlow-Kimball a beneficiary in his will, leaving her the bee business. Brown’s daughters – including Kelley’s wife – and other family members were concerned that Thurlow-Kimball was taking advantage of their father as his memory began to fade.

William Kelley told members of the media gathered outside the courthouse after the verdict that he was not surprised Kimball was convicted of murder.

“The jury saw through the deception, and I just want people to know my brother is missed by the community,” Kelley said. “I was ready for anything. It was in God’s hands, and it came out the way it was supposed to.”

Alsop also spoke outside the courthouse, saying Kimball faced no threat of death in the confrontation and had no justification in the shooting.

“People have a right to carry firearms, but the law only provides for use of firearms in defense in very limited and particular circumstances, and this was not one of them,” Alsop said.

ATTORNEY: DEFENDANT WAS FORCED TO SHOOT

Lilley also spoke to the gathered media as he left the courthouse.

“I’m shocked because I thought the case was a question of manslaughter. Hung jury, possibly guilty of manslaughter, but more likely ‘not guilty.’ It just seemed to me that the relative sizes of the two people made it clear that my client was in a jam that he couldn’t get out of except to use a firearm,” Lilley said.

Thurlow-Kimball left the courthouse in tears and declined to speak to reporters. She hugged her husband before he was taken away to jail.

Kelley’s widow, Kathleen Kelley, who witnessed the shooting, also declined to comment on the verdict.

Lilley had tried unsuccessfully Wednesday morning, while the jurors were still deliberating, to have them brought back to the courtroom to be given further instructions about Maine laws concerning murder and manslaughter charges.

Lilley referred to a headline in the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday morning that asked whether the shots were fired in anger or fear, saying that made him question whether the jury should be instructed on the specific language of the law, which states extreme anger or extreme fear can be determined to be adequate provocation for the use of deadly force.

Cole rejected Lilley’s request, saying the case was presented to him as “a classic self-defense” case, and declined to modify his instruction to the jurors hours into their work.

“It would be incredibly confusing to the jury when you have a self-defense instruction,” Cole said.

Lilley said he may use the judge’s refusal as grounds for Kimball’s appeal, which cannot be filed until after Kimball is sentenced.