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Posted May 9, 2008 | comments Leave a comment

Investigators trekked as far as Jamaica for evidence on Bell

By James Heffernan -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — In the 14 months leading up to Edward N. Bell’s capital murder trial, the prosecution worked tirelessly to ensure a conviction.

Winchester Sheriff Lenny Millholland, who was assigned the case as a member of the city Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division, remembered the pressure was immense.

“It was the hardest thing I hope I ever have to go through,” he said. “It was a case that was assigned to me, and if it went south, if [Bell] got off, for anything, I couldn’t live with myself.”

After putting in 18-hour days, Millholland would lie awake at home at night and think, “Did I do this, did I do that?” And he would demand the same painstaking attention to detail of other team members, sometimes calling them in the wee hours of the morning.

As the trial approached, parts of the Winchester commonwealth’s attorney’s office were in lockdown.

Jim Pearce, victim-witness coordinator, said one woman in the office took on the work of two other people so that prosecutors could focus on building the case against Bell.

“Nobody could come to us with anything but the Bell case.”

The long hours took a toll, and at times there were heated exchanges. Millholland even remembers locking horns a few times with lead prosecutor Paul Thomson.

“He had his methods and I had mine. … But I think it was just that the case meant that much to everybody.”

During the trial, the state would call 128 witnesses to the stand, some of whom had to be rounded up from as far away as Ohio and Illinois.

Bob Rush, a Winchester sheriff’s deputy and Timbrook’s former partner on the street, said that if there was ever a time when he considered getting out of law enforcement, it was then.

“I was so afraid that if we couldn’t find a witness, it would jeopardize the case. That’s how everybody felt. It didn’t matter what part of the case you were assigned to. It was as if that was the only part that mattered. And it was stressful.”

The road to Bell’s conviction and sentencing even led investigators to Jamaica, where Bell had been arrested for allegedly stabbing a man. For the sentencing phase of the trial, the prosecution wanted to establish that he posed a future danger to society if spared the death penalty.

“We had called the FBI to see if they could have one of their liaisons track down [witnesses in Jamaica], and we weren’t getting any response,” Millholland remembered. The team was growing impatient, so Millholland volunteered to travel to Jamaica and track them down.

“I went to Paul [Thomson] and the chief [Gary Reynolds]. I had a passport. I figured, what have we got to lose?”

An agent in Miami’s FBI office agreed to meet Millholland and fly with him to Jamaica. The island’s police chief pointed them to the village of San San, and they were assigned two local policemen as bodyguards.

Millholland said throughout the trip, there were signs of divine intervention.

Soon after they arrived in the village, they stopped at a grocery store to inquire about the stabbing, and Bell’s aunt happened to be there. Another round of interviews produced the victim’s name.

“We tried to find [him], but we couldn’t,” Millholland said. “So the next best thing was to come up with an incident report that this thing occurred.”

The police logs in the San San precinct were hand-written and organized in three-ring binders. Millholland and his crew had to search for the report page by page.

“It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

After hours of searching, Millholland was getting frustrated. He slammed one of the books down and when he opened it again, there was the entry. The arresting officer’s name was David Sheriff, and, with the help of the Jamaican police chief, he was located and brought to Winchester to testify.

Throughout much of the trial, Bell sat stone-faced, but Millholland said when Sheriff took the stand for the prosecution, Bell was visibly shaken.

When Circuit Court Judge Dennis L. Hupp handed down the death penalty in June 2001, Timbrook’s family and members of the local law enforcement community were seen hugging and pumping their fists.

“There was joy and jubilation in the fact that there was a conviction and it was the death penalty,” Millholland said. “And from that point on, everyone just had to live.”

Bell now sits on death row at a state prison in Sussex, where he is scheduled to die by lethal injection on July 24.

* Contact James Heffernan at jheffernan@nvdaily.com

Winchester City Sheriff Lenny Millholland, left, and Deputy Bob Rush walk down Woolen Mill Lane in Winchester recently, while retracing the foot chase that led to the death of city police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook in 1999. Alan Lehman/Daily

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