The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld on Tuesday the conviction of 73-year-old Merrill Kimball, who was found guilty by a jury last year of murder in the 2013 shooting of Leon Kelley at a bee farm in North Yarmouth.

The decision issued by the high court rejected several arguments that Kimball had made in his appeal, including his central claim that the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury that Kimball was driven to extreme anger or fear after being physically assaulted by Kelley and should have been convicted of manslaughter instead of murder.

“We conclude that Kelley, who was unarmed, did not act in a way that was objectively sufficient, as a matter of law, to provoke extreme anger or fear in Kimball and thereby justify Kimball’s deadly response in wielding a firearm and shooting Kelley multiple times,” Justice Andrew Mead wrote on behalf of the court in a unanimous 6-0 decision.

The decision means that Kimball, a Yarmouth lobsterman with no prior criminal convictions, will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. He was sentenced last June 5 to the mandatory minimum penalty of 25 years for murder.

Since 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.

At the heart of the conflict was a rift between the two men’s families over the affections of Stan Brown, who was 95 when he died last year. Brown, a master bee farmer and Kelley’s father-in-law, had shown favor toward Kimball’s wife, Karen Thurlow-Kimball, who managed the bee business for him when he grew too old to tend it himself. The rift came to a head when Thurlow-Kimball and her family came to the bee farm to retrieve numerous pots of honey she had harvested. They were confronted by Brown’s daughter, Kathleen Kelley; Leon Kelley, her 63-year-old husband; and two of her adult children.


The fate of Brown’s estate is now pending in Cumberland County Probate Court, where Kathleen Kelley filed a petition to become representative for the estate last Nov. 18. Brown did not leave a will.

The Supreme Judicial Court also rejected that any hostilities between the two families over money could legally justify the shooting.

“Similarly, neither the threat of economic harm to Kimball’s wife posed by the potential loss of honey she had stored at the farm, nor any perceived threat resulting from the Brown family’s hostility to her inclusion in Stan Brown’s will, could constitute adequate provocation justifying Kimball’s shooting Leon Kelley,” Mead wrote in the 12-page decision.

Kimball’s attorneys, Daniel Lilley and Cheryl Richardson, also argued in the appeal that the trial judge erred in allowing the jury to hear testimony that Kimball had been drinking alcohol on the day of the shooting because no one said he seemed impaired.

Lilley said Tuesday he is reviewing the decision to determine whether to appeal to other courts.

The high court ruled that testimony that Kimball had drunk two rum and cokes over an hour during a visit at a friend’s house before the shooting was fairly admitted as evidence.

“Although there was no evidence that he was physically impaired, the fact that Kimball had been drinking on the afternoon of the shooting was relevant because the jury could consider the effect on Kimball’s state of mind, judgment, or impulsivity, as well as his credibility on other issues,” Mead wrote. The high court also rejected Kimball’s arguments in his appeal that the trial judge had improperly excluded evidence that Kathleen Kelley was upset with Karen Thurlow-Kimball over inheritance of the bee farm business.

“Contrary to Kimball’s contention, our review of the record reveals that the court admitted extensive evidence concerning the inter-familial dispute,” Mead wrote. “The court did not abuse its discretion in its very minor limitation of evidence concerning the issue in order to keep the trial focused on the central issue of whether Kimball was criminally culpable for killing Leon Kelley.”


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