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Published: Sunday, 11/17/2002

Self-defense strategy in slaying of husband fell on friendly ears

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kimberly Anderson, 38, thanks attorney Alan Konop. She never spent a day in jail for the fatal shooting. Kimberly Anderson, 38, thanks attorney Alan Konop. She never spent a day in jail for the fatal shooting.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

WAPAKONETA, Ohio - Kimberly Anderson would say she was a woman protecting herself and her children.

The Anderson family would say she was a murderer who took Brent Anderson's life. Legal experts would call her very fortunate.

Ms. Anderson, 38, was acquitted last month of aggravated murder, murder, and voluntary manslaughter stemming from the Sept. 2, 2001, death of her estranged husband, Brent, 37, an attorney in Celina, Ohio. She admitted she shot him to death, telling even the 911 operator moments after the gunfire, “He came after me. We got in an argument. I shot him.”

Her claims of self-defense were rejected by Mr. Anderson's large, extended family and by Auglaize County prosecutors who insisted there was plenty of evidence to prove even aggravated murder - that she purposely killed Mr. Anderson with prior calculation and design.

But when the case was moved out of her hometown to Defiance County because of intense pretrial publicity, a jury of 12 men and women voted unanimously to acquit her on all charges.

“She was fortunate,” said Michael Brennan, a law professor at the University of Southern California and a former federal public defender. “To prove self-defense, there has to be a reasonable apprehension that your life is in danger. That is a jury determination, and it's a tough defense to prevail on particularly if the victim is not armed and there's no prior history of the victim abusing the defendant. She did well to have been acquitted.”

In an interview with The Blade, Ms. Anderson, a church-going Baptist who talks frequently about her faith in Jesus, said she put the matter in God's hands from the beginning.

In the hours after the shooting, Ms. Anderson told investigators everything about what had happened. She waived her Miranda Rights, which would have allowed her to have an attorney present before she spoke with officers.

“I felt I had done nothing wrong,” she said. “I felt that if I told them everything, they would see that too. I felt the truth would set me free. It was so clear and so obvious.”

Auglaize County Prosecutor Ed Pierce said he did not present the case to a grand jury for nearly four months not because he was deciding whether Ms. Anderson should be charged but because investigators were collecting and analyzing all of the physical evidence, autopsy report, and witness statements.

Although they knew she had fired the deadly shots, Ms. Anderson was not immediately put in jail.

“That certainly would've been the easy thing to do but not necessarily the correct thing to do,” Mr. Pierce said. “Law enforcement has the responsibility to present complete cases to the grand jury. The day this occurred we didn't have that. The fact that a gun was fired and the individual was deceased didn't mean it was a murder.”

USC's Mr. Brennan said even women who have been involved in long-term abusive marriages who kill their husbands during confrontations are frequently charged and convicted of murder. He said in Ms. Anderson's case, the prosecution may have sent mixed signals to the jury by charging both aggravated murder and manslaughter.

“You're really saying by specifically charging voluntary manslaughter that it's not an aggravated case,” he said.

Long-time Toledo defense attorney Alan Konop is convinced that his client's testimony was crucial to the jury's verdict.

“From day one, I was convinced she was telling the truth and I knew that if she was charged and this case went to trial that Kim Anderson would be her best witness,” Mr. Konop said.

At trial, he said, “We maintained from the beginning that this was not a forensic case - the forensic evidence was subject to too many interpretations. This case was a very human case about a human being in fear of her life and the lives of her children.”

Still, even Mr. Konop proposed a last-minute plea bargain to Ms. Anderson while the jury was deliberating. She declined.

“I told him, `God isn't telling me to take a deal. God is telling me to be still and know that I am God,' ” Ms. Anderson said referring to a favorite Bible passage. “He got me through this completely protected. I still had my children. I never spent a day in jail. I had a full-time job painting. We were never harmed. I was praying for protection even before the shooting and we were protected.”

Mr. Konop and Ms. Anderson agreed they would not have won acquittal if the case had gone to trial in Wapakoneta.

Ms. Anderson admits hers did not fall into a classic abuse situation. Mr. Anderson had never been physically violent or abusive during their three-year marriage, she said, although he had been threatening to kill himself and had told her he might take her and the children with him.

He was struggling with depression and wild mood swings, she said, and acting strangely enough that on Aug. 1 she bought a handgun to protect herself.

When a couple weeks later, she learned he may have been sexually molesting one of the children, she raised the issue with him. When he brought their two young sons home after a weekend visit Sept. 2, they began to argue about it and, she said, he exploded.

“Brent was yelling, `You can't prove anything. You can't tell anyone,'” she said, getting emotional at the memory.

She fumbled for the telephone but realized it wasn't there. She tried to run upstairs to dial 911. He chased her and when she lunged for the phone, she found her gun underneath a table by the bed. She fired once.

“He turned and called me [expletives]. I thought he'd go downstairs,” she said. “I don't know why he didn't get the hell out of the house.”

Instead, he ran into the walk-in closet and there she continued to fire until the gun was empty.

“I felt that if he got the gun he would kill me,” she said.

Pam Anderson, the victim's eldest sister who lives in Connecticut, said the family just doesn't buy the story.

“He was not abusive. There was no evidence of a physical fight in the house. She had no scratches or bruises. He had no weapon with him. It was her gun,” Pam Anderson said. “She says that she was looking for a phone to call the authorities and report the alleged sexual molestation of the children, but she bypassed a phone on the first floor and went upstairs to a nightstand where the telephone was located and also a gun. Draw your own conclusion.”

The victim's family members said the jury acted on sympathy, not on the facts.

“I think the jury saw a mother of four children with two of them sitting behind her crying and they couldn't do it,” Pam Anderson said.

Still pending is a wrongful death suit the victim's brother, Kevin Anderson of Cincinnati, filed just 17 days after the shooting. That case has been set for trial June 2. Kevin Anderson and his wife are seeking custody of the two children Ms. Anderson had with Brent Anderson.

Ms. Anderson said she's not worried about the lawsuit.

“It's never been about money as long as my four children and I walk out of this alive,” she said.

Since the acquittal she has had permanent, unsupervised custody of her two youngest children, and she shares parenting of the two teenagers she had with her first husband.

She said she understands her late husband's family's feelings, but prays they will understand her position eventually.

“I think it's easier for them to believe I'm a cold-blooded killer than to think that their son had some problems,” she said.



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