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Posted January 27, 2001 | Leave a comment
Onlookers quiet as jurors reach the decision in less than an hour
By Richard Nash -- Daily Staff Writer
A Winchester Circuit Court jury recommended death Friday for Edward N. Bell, the convicted killer of city Police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for less than an hour before announcing the death sentence, which Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp will accept or deny after considering arguments and post-trial motions in a May 30 hearing.
The sentence came a day after the jury found Bell guilty of capital murder and three other felonies stemming from Timbrook's fatal shooting in an East Piccadilly Street alley just before midnight on Oct. 29, 1999.
"I feel that a justice has been served today," said city police Chief Gary W. Reynolds. "An impartial jury has listened to the evidence and found the defendant guilty as charged. Justice has been done."
Reynolds spoke to reporters after escorting several of Timbrook's relatives from the courthouse at the close of Bell's seven-day trial.
Although Timbrook's relatives and dozens of law enforcement officers cried tears of joy when the jury announced its verdict Thursday, onlookers remained quiet at announcement of Bell's death sentence.
Bell, a 36-year-old Jamaican immigrant, showed no emotion at sentencing or at any point in the trial.
"He's pretty stoic about the whole thing," said Bell defense attorney Mark B. Williams. "I think he realized the gravity of the situation for the first time really yesterday."
In addition to the death sentence, the jury sentenced Bell on Friday to a total of 48 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for convictions on charges of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, using a firearm in the commission of a murder and possessing a firearm while possessing cocaine.
Bell received the maximum sentence allowed for each of the three convictions, but may see his punishment reduced.
Procedural irregularities forced Hupp to set aside the jury's recommended penalty of 40 years and $500,000 for the cocaine possession charge.
The judge said he will sentence Bell on the charge himself at the May 30 hearing.
Williams and co-counsel Jud A. Fischel argued Friday that the jury should show mercy to Bell and his family by sentencing him to life in prison.
Incarcerated for life in a super-maximum security prison with no possibility of release, Bell would pose no future danger to society, Williams said.
In such a prison, Bell would have little or no contact with the outside world and spend nearly every moment alone in a locked cell with no opportunity to commit violent acts, he said.
"Folks, that's punishment," he told the jury. "You're not getting away with anything spending 23 hours a day in a steel room."
Williams told the jury that a death sentence for Bell will only result in another dead man and another tragedy for another family.
Killing Bell will not bring Timbrook back to his family and loved ones, Williams said.
"Ricky Timbrook is dead," he said. "Putting Eddie Bell to death is not going to bring him back."
Oswald Bell, Edward N. Bell's 64-year-old immigrant father, told the jury that any punishment for his son will be a punishment for him as well.
The punishment will be especially severe if Edward N. Bell truly is innocent of Timbrook's murder, his father said.
"If he is guilty of the act and they punish him, I will feel it, but not as much as he didn't do it," he said. "I don't think they have the right person. To my knowledge, they don't have the right person."
City Commonwealth's Attorney Paul H. Thomson, who wouldn't speak to reporters after hearing the jury's decision, argued that death by execution is the only appropriate sentence for a man with Bell's criminal background and obvious propensity for violence.
There is no evidence of any mitigating circumstance in the crime or in Bell's life that would support a sentence less severe than death, he said.
Allowing Bell to live would pose a serious threat to the future safety of the community and its law enforcement officers, Thomson said.
"[Bell] has proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that the death penalty is appropriate," he said. "This is an individual who has produced not one shred of evidence of mitigation."
Thomson called to the stand a series of witnesses who testified about Bell's history of drug dealing and violence.
Cpl. David Sheriff, a constable in Bell's native Jamaica, testified that a court convicted Bell in 1985 on charges of assault and malicious destruction of property.
The court fined Bell $80 and forced him to pay $26 in restitution for a shirt he ripped from the assault victim during a fight, he said.
West Virginia State Police Sgt. W.D. Walker testified that Bell ran from him and resisted arrest after the trooper stopped him in 1999 for a routine speeding violation on U.S. 340 south of Charles Town.
Authorities used helicopters and police dogs to find Bell and charge him with fleeing an arrest, driving without a license and speeding, he said.
Employees of the regional jail, where Bell has spent the 15 months, testified that Bell has made repeated threats of violence toward guards and other employees since his incarceration.
"He said 'You're a big man with these handcuffs on. Take these handcuffs off and you'll see what happens,'" said Corrections Officer Craig A. Robinson.
One of Bell's former girlfriends, Billie Jo Swartz, said Bell held a gun to her head, beat her head against his car and sexually assaulted her during a 1997 argument in the middle of a public street.
"He slammed my head against his car," she said. "Then he pulled my shorts down and put his fingers in me and stuff."
Swartz said Bell also beat his pregnant girlfriend during the encounter, knocking her to the ground before throwing her from the hood of a moving vehicle.
"Eddy hit her and knocked her down and she was pregnant," she said.
No fewer than four witnesses said they know Bell as a dealer of crack cocaine. Two witnesses said they have seen Bell brandish a firearm during an argument. Two law enforcement officers said that they have caught Bell in possession of illegal weapons and handgun ammunition.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this man will always be a serious threat to any law enforcement officer, much less the general public," Thomson said.
The proceedings reached an emotional climax late in the afternoon when Timbrook's immediate family members began taking the stand to testify about the impact his death has had on their lives.
Richard Timbrook, the dead officer's father, said he has been unable to sleep more than four hours a night since his son's death and suffers from symptoms of depression when he thinks of the man he considered "more of a best friend than a son."
"If ever there was someone proud of his son it was me," he said, fighting tears and choking on his words. "No matter what Rick done, I was a part of it and that I'll never have again."
Members of the jury, many of them in tears, asked Hupp to call a short recess after Richard Timbrook's testimony.
Kitty Timbrook, the dead officer's mother, recalled her son's first day of school, his decision to attend the police academy, his wedding and his first girlfriend, who broke up with young athlete "because he would rather play basketball than hold hands."
Ricky Timbrook's sister, Kimberly Hudson, also took the stand.
"I don't have my brother anymore," she said. "Ricky was like my hero. He always protected me and looked out for me."
Kelly Lee Wisecarver Timbrook, Ricky Timbrook's wife and the mother of the 13-month-old son he never met, said she has felt "lost in all the hurt and anger" since the shooting.
Over seven weeks pregnant when her husband died, Kelly Timbrook entered the court room carrying her son and fought tears through much of her short testimony.
Reading from a prepared statement, the young widow said she sometimes wishes for death and fears she has lost her faith in a merciful God.
"I think it's sad that I am 31 years old, I'm a widow and this is the way I feel about life," she said. "I can only wait and know that one day Rick and I will be together watching over our son."
Ricky Timbrook was 32 years old at the time of his death.
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