Posted January 26, 2001 | comments Leave a comment

Penalty phase of trial will begin today

By Richard Nash -- Daily Staff Writer

A jury of nine women and three men found Edward N. Bell guilty of capital murder Thursday in connection with the 1999 shooting death of Winchester Police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook.

The jury deliberated for just three hours before delivering the verdict, which carries the possibility of a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The jury will convene again at 9 a.m. today to begin arguments in the trial's penalty phase, when city Commonwealth's Attorney Paul H. Thomson is expected to ask the jury to sentence Bell, 36, to death by execution.

"I'm ready for the hearing in the morning," Thomson said Thursday night when asked to comment on the verdict.

Dozens of Timbrook's relatives and former colleagues in the city Police Department filled the courtroom and burst into tears as Circuit Court Clerk Michael Foreman announced the verdict.

Bell, who did not take the stand in his own defense during the trial, displayed no emotion.

Bell defense attorneys Jud A. Fischel and Mark B. Williams sat in silence as corrections officers led their client away.

"The trial's not over," Fischel said.

The verdict follows six days of testimony and arguments in which Thomson maintained that Bell murdered Timbrook "willfully, deliberately and with premeditation" shortly before midnight on Oct. 29, 1999 after the highly decorated officer chased him into an East Piccadilly Street alley.

Thomson presented evidence throughout the trial that Bell is a violent criminal and drug dealer who publicly threatened Timbrook's life on numerous occasions before the shooting.

Overwhelming physical evidence and the testimony of more than 40 witnesses prove that Bell murdered Timbrook out of revenge for a 1997 misdemeanor weapons arrest and to avoid another arrest that could have thwarted the Jamaican immigrant's ongoing effort to win American citizenship, Thomson said.

In his 51-minute closing argument Thursday, Thomson summarized his case for the jurors and told them that "common sense" demanded that they return a guilty verdict.

Flashing an autopsy photo of Timbrook's face after the shooting, Thomson pointed out the lethal wound over the officer's eye and the black powder burns that covered his face.

"That alone is enough for you [the jury] to find [Bell] guilty," he said. "But you've got about 90 more exhibits and 40 something witnesses that prove this case beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt."

The jury also found Bell guilty of three additional felonies related to Timbrook's murder.

Convictions for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, use of a firearm in the commission of a murder and possession of a firearm while possessing cocaine all stem from the prosecution's successful attempt to tie Bell to the murder weapon, a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, and several packets of crack cocaine that police discovered upon his arrest.

At least one witness testified during the trial that Bell was out on the night of the shooting in an effort to sell both the cocaine and the gun.

"That's where he was on [Oct.] 29th," Thomson said. "Lurking in the shadows, trying to sell cocaine."

Fischel, in his hour-long closing argument, told the jury that Thomson's case is built upon circumstantial evidence and a "rush to judgment" by police investigators.

Careful consideration of the evidence Thomson presented reveals "huge and important holes in the logic and the reasoning" behind the prosecution's case, Fischel said.

If the jury would examine the evidence without the "biases" of "sympathy and emotion," it would see that Bell is not guilty and that Thomson has failed to make a case that overcomes the required presumption that Bell is innocent, he said.

"The presumption of innocence still cloaks Eddie Bell," Fischel said.

Fischel presented the jury with a complex theory of Timbrook's shooting in which an unidentified suspect actually murdered the officer, but escaped capture and never faced police interrogation.

Thomson's own evidence supports the theory, which should have been reason enough for the jury to find Bell not guilty, Fischel said.

“That's a huge consideration of reasonable doubt," he said. "There were two people there [in the alley where Timbrook died]."

Fischel reminded the jury that police did not discover the gun used to kill Timbrook until more than 24 hours after Bell's arrest.

During that 24 hours, police left the crime scene unguarded for 31⁄2 hours, giving the real killer ample time to wipe the murder weapon clean of fingerprints and leave it near the site of Bell's arrest for police to find, he said.

"This is not just me trying to piece things together," he said. "This is the commonwealth's own evidence."

Fischel said he cannot explain how the actual killer in his theory got away with the crime, but the theory's plausibility should have been enough for an acquittal.

Many of the prosecution's witnesses are proven liars and convicted felons whose testimony the jury should not trust, he said.

The appearance of guilt is not sufficient evidence for a conviction, he said.

"The suspicion or probability of guilt is not enough for a conviction," Fischel said. "You're being asked to convict a man of capital murder and perhaps forfeit his life on a case of circumstantial evidence."

Thomson said in his rebuttal to Fischel's argument that the theory of a second suspect is nothing more than"fabricated, atmospheric trimmings created by the mind of an attorney."

There is no evidence of a third party in Timbrook's death and plenty of direct evidence to support a guilty verdict, Thomson said.

"The defense would have you believe that the cloak of the presumption of innocence is something the state can't take off the defendant," he said. "But, ladies and gentlemen, the victim in this case wears another kind of cloak: The cloak of a law enforcement officer."

Timbrook was 32 years old at the time of his death. His wife, Kelly Timbrook, was less than two months away from giving birth to the couple's first and only child.

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