Posted October 26, 2000 | comments Leave a comment

Prosecutor: Vileness of police shooting is issue for jury to decide

By John Bennett - Daily Staff Writer

The murder of Winchester Police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook last year was a crime that meets the legal standard of vileness necessary to impose the death penalty in the case, according to prosecutors.

Last week, lawyers for Edward N. Bell, accused in the shooting death of Timbrook, filed a pretrial motion in Winchester Circuit Court arguing that because the officer was killed by a single gunshot, the crime was not extreme enough to make the death penalty appropriate in the case.

But legal precedents show that the crime does meet the standard of vileness, according to materials filed by the office of the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney on Tuesday.

Under state law, a criminal defendant must be found to have committed a particularly “vile” crime, or be determined to be a future danger to society, in order to be sentenced to execution.

The issue will be argued before Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp in a hearing set for Monday — the one-year anniversary of Timbrook’s death.

In his motion, city Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul H. Thomson argues that the vileness question does not need to be decided before the trial, and should instead be addressed in the sentencing phase.

“The issue of whether the crime is vile is a jury question and not an issue that can be decided before the trial,” the motion says.

Thomson also notes that the circumstances surrounding Timbrook’s death resembled those seen in a recent death penalty case involving Lonnie Weeks Jr., a North Carolina man who was accused of shooting a state trooper during a traffic stop in 1993.

“There are many facts in the case at bar similar to the facts in” the Weeks case, the motion says.

In that case, a jury found that Weeks had shown “vileness” in firing at least six bullets at the police officer. The officer died “within minutes at the scene with his police weapon in its ‘snapped’ holster,” according to a 1994 court ruling that upheld the decision to sentence Weeks to death.

The fact that Timbrook was murdered using “hydrashock” bullets also indicates the vileness of the crime, the motion says.

“These bullets are designed to inflict maximum lethal damage to human beings,” Thomson writes.

Thomson’s office previously filed documents indicating that Bell’s future dangerousness would be the basis to impose the death penalty if he is convicted of Timbrook’s murder.

Bell’s future dangerousness is demonstrated in part by threats he made to kill Timbrook, as well as incidents in which Bell assaulted girlfriends, sold drugs, and brandished guns, according to a compilation of previous incidents of Bell’s misconduct prepared by Thomson’s office in April.

Bell, 36, is accused of shooting Timbrook, 32, shortly before midnight on Oct. 29 between 301 and 303 E. Piccadilly St. during a foot chase. Police arrested Bell the next morning after locating him in the basement of a nearby house.

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