Justice Roland Cole sentenced 72-year-old Merrill “Mike” Kimball to serve 25 years in prison for murdering Leon Kelley at a North Yarmouth bee farm in 2013, saying “my hands are tied” after he imposed the minimum sentence allowed by law Friday.

“I don’t think it’s a fair situation,” Cole said as he sentenced Kimball, who will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Cole said the case was different than most murder trials he has presided over because Kimball and Kelley were both from the middle class and respected members of their communities. Both were lobstermen and military veterans, and Kimball had no prior criminal history.

“This is not the usual history for someone who is charged with murder,” Cole said. “My hands are tied. The Legislature has set the sentence, a minimum mandatory sentence, that can be imposed for murder.”

Since the day of the shooting on Oct. 6, 2013, Kimball has maintained that he acted in self-defense when he shot the 63-year-old Kelley three times at Brown’s Bee Farm after Kelley assaulted him and kept coming at him.

A jury rejected Kimball’s self-defense argument during his trial at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland and convicted Kimball of murder rather than the lesser charge of manslaughter.

The shooting followed a confrontation between the family of Kelley, whose father-in-law, Stan Brown, owned the farm, and the family of Kimball, whose wife, Karen Thurlow-Kimball, managed the bee farming business for Brown.

The animosity between the families started after Brown, who was 95 when he died last month, had Thurlow-Kimball run the bee operation and made her a beneficiary to inherit the business and some of his land.

Kelley’s wife, Kathleen Kelley, and two of her children testified that they believed Thurlow-Kimball was taking advantage of Brown as his health began to falter and his memory began to fade with age.

The Kelleys confronted Thurlow-Kimball, her son Damon Carroll and Kimball as they came to the farm that afternoon to retrieve 700 pounds of honey Thurlow-Kimball had finished processing that morning.

In court Friday, Kimball turned to the Kelley family before the judge imposed the sentence to apologize to them for Kelley’s death.

“You don’t know how sorry I am, this whole mess. Absolutely. And I apologize to you because I didn’t know what to do,” Kimball said, facing members of Kelley’s family in the spectator section of the courtroom.

Kimball, dressed in an orange prison suit, said little else during the hearing, but nodded toward his wife, Thurlow-Kimball, as he came into the courtroom. She did not address the court and sat alone during the hearing.

Kimball told police immediately after the shooting that he fired his gun after Kelley, who was 6-foot-4 and outweighed him by more than 100 pounds, shoved him repeatedly and forced him to retreat 35 feet. Kimball, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, then drew his .380-caliber pistol and fired three times.

Kelley was pronounced dead at Maine Medical Center in Portland. The state medical examiner who conducted the autopsy said any of the three shots could have killed Kelley.

Kathleen Kelley spoke at the hearing, saying she had hoped to start by talking about her husband’s positive qualities, but has been haunted by the image of Kimball standing with the pistol in his hand as her husband lay dying on the ground near the bee farm sales shop.

“My thoughts always start with seeing Merrill Kimball holding the pistol and wondering who he was going to shoot next,” she said.

Kelley said her husband was a Vietnam War veteran who had worked hard his entire life, first as a trucker and then as a lobsterman. He also spent 33 years in Alcoholics Anonymous, helping other alcoholics with their disease.

“He hoped God would forgive him for all the things he did wrong in Vietnam,” she said.

Kathleen Kelley filed a wrongful death suit against Kimball last month, seeking $1 million from Kimball’s assets including his house in Yarmouth.

Kelley’s stepson, Darrell Rawnsley, said at the hearing that Kelley was also a terrific grandfather to his three young children.

“I feel cheated for my kids from having him around,” Rawnsley said.

William Kelley, one of Kelley’s brothers, said after the sentencing that he was pleased with what the judge imposed.

“I think it’s a life sentence for him anyway. How is he going to appeal a minimum sentence?” William Kelley said.


Kimball’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, said he plans to file an appeal as soon as possible seeking to reverse his client’s conviction or be granted a new trial on several grounds.

Lilley said the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, made multiple references in his closing statement at the trial to Kimball drinking alcohol in the hours before the shooting, potentially swaying the jury although police testified that Kimball did not seem impaired.

Lilley added that the prosecution also argued that Kimball acted from “extreme anger,” a position that should have prompted the judge to give jurors a specific instruction about the law that addresses extreme anger.

The judge rejected Lilley’s request for the legal instruction about extreme anger to the jury midway through the jurors’ deliberations in April. The judge also rejected motions by Lilley on Friday seeking acquittal for Kimball and for a new trial on those same grounds.

Alsop said Lilley’s arguments were “nothing new” and already had been vetted and rejected at trial.

“The murder was a rash and impulsive act by an angry and foolish man. He will spend the rest of his life in jail, and we believe justice was done,” Alsop said, speaking outside the courtroom after the sentencing.

Kimball rejected a plea offer before the start of the trial. Terms of the offer have not been disclosed.

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