PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Maine lobsterman was sentenced Friday to 25 years in prison for the shooting death of a fellow lobsterman at a bee farm amid what authorities described as ill will between their two families.
Merrill Kimball, 72, was given the minimum sentence for the crime after Justice Roland Cole rejected defense requests for acquittal or a new trial. A jury convicted Kimball of murder in the fatal October 2013 shooting of Leon Kelley.
Prosecutors say Kimball shot Kelley three times during a confrontation at a bee farm that belonged to Kelley's father-in-law. There had been animosity between the families after Kimball's wife was made manager of the bee farm and a beneficiary of the 95-year-old owner's will.
Cole described the killing as "senseless," but added that Kimball's background as a good citizen left him feeling that his hands were tied by Maine's mandatory minimum sentence. He also ordered Kimball to pay $5,000 to the Maine Victims' Compensation Program. Cole added that Kimball does not have "the usual history of someone who's been convicted of murder."
Kimball, of Yarmouth, turned to Kelley's family just before his sentencing and apologized. Kelley's family and friends did not react, except for one member of the group who held up a hat to block the view of the defendant.
"You don't know how sorry I am, this whole mess," Kimball said. "I apologize to you, because I didn't know what else to do."
Before the sentencing, widow Kathleen Kelley of Georgetown recalled her husband's kindness.
"Sometimes we would be out on the boat and a boat would pass us. Leon would ask how many on board," she said. "They would answer, and we would pitch enough lobster onto the boat to eat. They would be so surprised."
Other family members also said their relative will be remembered for his charitable nature, particularly the work he did with people who struggled with addiction. His brother, William Kelley, said Leon saved many lives and could have saved many more.
"Mr. Kimball has taken that away from all of us," William Kelley said.
Kimball's attorney, Daniel Lilley, said he plans to appeal. He repeated an earlier contention that Kimball acted in self-defense when he shot Kelley, and "felt he had no choice" but to shoot.
"A second tragedy is now to be put into effect," Lilley said.
Kathleen Kelley also has filed a $1 million wrongful death lawsuit against Kimball.