Defendant Testifies in Kidnapping Trial

Clearfield County Courthouse (GantDaily File Photo)

CLEARFIELD – The 40-year-old DuBois woman who has been accused of kidnapping her 4-year-old daughter and fleeing with her to Utah blamed her husband, telling jurors they were running for their lives during her emotional testimony Monday afternoon.

Laura D. Kilmer, 40, of DuBois is charged with kidnapping to facilitate a felony, kidnapping to inflict injury or terror and interference with the custody of children. The commonwealth withdrew one count for kidnapping – interference with a public official Monday morning prior to the start of the two-day trial.

In her testimony, the defendant denied her husband, Joseph Kilmer’s claims that she acted suspiciously following the birth of their daughter in March 2006. Instead she said he often reversed his accounts of what actually occurred to incriminate her.

She said she never actively attempted to keep their daughter from her husband until they fled Dec. 16, 2010. She also denied making threatening statements about taking their daughter away permanently and killing her and then herself if caught by authorities.

“I never said those things. I would’ve never said such things about my daughter,” said Laura Kilmer in her tearful testimony. She told jurors she never stipulated that her husband would have to move to New Jersey to see their daughter.

According to the defendant, she and the couple’s daughter traveled to New Jersey to visit her sister in 2008 and again in 2010. She said she’d contacted Children, Youth and Family Services both times from New Jersey, as her husband threatened to file kidnapping charges against her if she didn’t return.

She said on both occasions she and her daughter returned home earlier than planned because of the threats made by Joseph Kilmer. She said that her husband always had to have control of her and frequently harassed her family.

“If he can’t torment me, he goes after and torments whoever I love. He threatened our lives,” she said while sobbing. On Dec. 3, 2010, she said she and her husband went Christmas shopping with their daughter and then to McDonald’s for ice cream.

According to her, their family outing turned bad while they were at McDonald’s. She said her husband began talking about mothers who hurt their children in front of their daughter, which she found inappropriate. She advised him to stop discussing the issue, and if he didn’t, she would leave with their daughter.

The defendant said her husband’s behavior escalated after she went to her vehicle with their daughter. She alleged he pushed her out of the way when she was placing their daughter in a child safety seat to leave.

At that point, she alleged he “got up” in their daughter’s face and “screamed” that the defendant “was going to kill her.” She said she went to her parents’ residence and her husband followed them. She contacted police about his behavior.

She said she became aware of the Dec. 17, 2010 custody hearing through her parents. Her husband had contacted them regarding it, and they relayed his message to her. When she sought help from Clarion County’s Stop Abuse for Everyone Inc., they verified the custody hearing date for her.

The defendant said she didn’t attend the hearing, because the situation had escalated between them, and it was “one incident after another” the week prior. Reaching for tissues in between sobs, she described her mental state as “panicky” as their custody hearing neared.

“I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t eating very well. I was worrying about his threats. I was worrying about my daughter never seeing me again. I was worrying about me never seeing my daughter again,” she said. She alleged her husband had implied he could get his father’s gun anytime he wanted.

She told the jury that she didn’t believe the court could protect her and their daughter from him. As a result, she took their daughter and fled the state, as she didn’t have any safe haven in Pennsylvania with her parents being elderly and in poor health. She said she ended up in a domestic violence shelter in Ohio, where she thought out ways to help her daughter have a regular life.

Laura Kilmer said she neither contacted the Clarion County Court nor her attorney while she was on the run. She said she feared he’d track her down and take their daughter away if she contacted anyone back in Pennsylvania.

“I was a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t have any degree. I didn’t have any work experience. I didn’t have any ability to keep my daughter safe (in DuBois),” she said.

According to the defendant, she didn’t have any other alternatives. She said prior to the Dec. 17, 2010 custody hearing, she’d been awarded temporary sole custody of their daughter and her husband had been excluded from any contact with their daughter.

Under cross-examination, Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. grilled Laura Kilmer without any mercy.

He asked the defendant if she feared her husband prior to December 2010, and she expressed experiencing fear of him for the past 12 years. She said that her husband was “more than unkind” to her and every day, she said they were walking on egg shells.

“But you learned he’d gone to court and he’d gotten a lawyer. When you learned he was taking it to court and before a judge, you didn’t do that, did you?” asked Shaw.  “In June 2010, you had the opportunity to go to court . . . and to have a formal order.”

The defendant responded, “He threatened to take my daughter away and to file kidnapping charges. He’s the manipulator, not me.” She told Shaw that she was attempting to protect her daughter after her husband threatened their lives and to “minimize that would not be justice.”

Shaw suggested that the defendant couldn’t have feared Joseph Kilmer while presenting a series of hostile and profane voice messages she’d left for him. She claimed she wasn’t in “imminent fear” while her husband wasn’t physically there and it was possible for her to be both “angry and afraid” at the same time.

Twice during this segment of cross-examination, Judge Paul E. Cherry warned Shaw and Laura Kilmer to be courteous of the court reporter who can only take down one person at a time. During the second warning, the judge threatened to end the questioning if it continued.

When questioning resumed, the defendant again denied making any statements about shooting and killing her daughter and herself. In addition, she denied any comments about “going underground and off-grid; however, she did admit to threatening to go into protective custody.

Shaw played voicemails from Nov. 11, 2010, Sept. 3, 2010 and Oct. 17, 2010. In the first from November, the defendant asked Joseph Kilmer about “how it was going to look” when she presented evidence about their daughter being in the hospital and him not showing up.

“You were trying to scare Joe into not going to court and before a judge,” said Shaw, who accused Laura Kilmer of fearing that her husband would gain visitation and custody of their daughter. “So you started to threaten and manipulate Joe.”

In the second recording from September, the defendant said Shaw was removing her message from the context. She told the jury she and her daughter had been locked out at night in the cold, and she was angry because her husband had keys to let them in but wasn’t answering her calls.

Then, Shaw asked about her last words in this particular voice message. The defendant said “bye” to which Shaw asked if she said “expletive die” or “expletive bye.” She said it was the latter; Shaw then played the voice message a second time.

Afterward Shaw asked if it “refreshed her memory” any and she still insisted she said “expletive bye” on the recording. He said, “Sure, it does.”

In the October voicemail, Shaw said the defendant threatened to go into “protective custody or whatever the expletive they call it.” The defendant blamed the constant anxiety of the couple’s marital problems to which Shaw asked if it was self-inflicted from her own “irrational behavior” and all her “unfounded, baseless claims” against her husband.

Shaw pointed out that in her temporary custody order dated Dec. 10, 2010, it also ordered her to appear at their custody hearing Dec. 17, 2010. He said this gave her the right to “march into court” and to “present whatever evidence” for her claims.

The defendant said she knew about the custody hearing and that she could “attempt” to go and “make it there alive.” She said she ultimately chose to for them to flee for their lives and leave for her sister’s residence in Utah.

When asked by Shaw, the defendant said she told her sister very little about her situation with Joseph Kilmer. Shaw asked, “So you’re packing up your daughter and fleeing in the middle of the night, and you don’t even tell your sister what the heck is going on?”

Laura Kilmer admitted to being in Ohio but refused to tell the court if she had also gone to Florida. At Shaw’s prompting, Cherry directed her to answer the question multiple times to which she chose silence. After court adjourned, defense attorney Michael Marshall privately discussed the matter with the defendant.

Marshall told the court he’d advised the defendant that she should have answered the question and sought for his client to be “given the night to think about it.” Cherry permitted the request and said the defendant had until 9 a.m. to decide whether she’d answer the question.

Before the commonwealth rested its case Monday afternoon, Trooper Carol Ponce, a criminal investigator with the DuBois-based state police, said she was assigned the kidnapping case Jan. 31, 2011. She interviewed the defendant’s husband, Joseph Kilmer the same day.

During the interview, she said they discussed his relationship with his wife and their daughter as well as threats she’d made against him, their daughter and herself. He believed his wife had their daughter and he was concerned about her safety.

Ponce said that he advised her that his wife owned a handgun at which time she verified it. She contacted the Route 66 sporting goods store and obtained the serial number for the weapon. Then, she contacted the Clarion County Sheriff’s Department and learned the defendant didn’t have a permit.

At that point, Ponce said she filed the kidnapping charges against Laura Kilmer and issued a warrant for her arrest. She entered the defendant’s physical description and demographic and vehicle information into the National Crime Information Center database, which is shared by law enforcement nationwide.

Ponce requested assistance from the U.S. Marshal Service through which she later learned that Laura Kilmer had been apprehended and her daughter secured. After her extradition to Pennsylvania, the defendant agreed to an interview with Ponce and was properly Mirandized.

During this interview, she told Ponce she didn’t want her husband, Joseph Kilmer to have custody of their daughter. She admitted initially fleeing to Ohio to stay with family and friends and ultimately ending up in Utah.

She told Ponce she was aware of the Dec. 17, 2010 custody hearing and fled at approximately 3 a.m. the day prior. She admitted to having a firearm with her but said it wasn’t loaded. She explained only the clip was loaded, and it wasn’t inside the firearm.

Ponce was presented with various court documents that Joseph Kilmer’s attorney attempted to mail to his wife regarding the custody of their daughter from November 2010 through January 2011. She said the certified mailings were refused and undeliverable to the defendant’s New Bethlehem and DuBois addresses.

U.S. Marshal James R. Phelps said on Feb. 27, 2011, he assisted in apprehending Laura Kilmer in West Valley City, Utah. He said they were able to locate her vehicle in the parking lot of her sister’s apartment complex. But they didn’t enter the apartment due to the threats she’d made and concerns for her daughter’s safety.

According to him, they developed a surveillance plan and waited for her to travel so that they could stop and apprehend her. He said he observed the defendant exchanging hugs and goodbyes with family in a mall parking lot.  From experience he believed she would be “gassing up” to go on the run.

He said Laura Kilmer proceeded to a local gas station/convenience store, where she parked at the fuel pumps. When she reached the entrance, she was arrested by U.S. Marshals at which time he, alongside other deputies, secured her then 4-year-old daughter.

Phelps said they examined the vehicle, which had very little moveable space. He said it was densely packed with personal items and he believed they’d been living out of it for some time. He said deputies also recovered a fully-loaded handgun with 10 rounds of ammunition loaded in the magazine.

He described Laura Kilmer as very hostile at the time of her apprehension; she was being violent and screaming at the deputies. He said she was “very upset” that she was being detained and they were taking her daughter.

Phelps told the jury that the defendant’s daughter didn’t require any immediate medical intention and was transported to a family- and child-friendly institution operated by the state. He said that Joseph Kilmer arrived in Utah and assumed custody of his daughter.

Kilmer was initially scheduled to stand trial Dec. 28, 2011 for these charges; however, it was declared a mistrial by Cherry.

In December, Juror No. 8 didn’t show for the trial and cited a mix-up in dates. Cherry said the trial could have proceeded with an alternate juror in that seat. In Pennsylvania, two additional jurors are picked alongside the 12 regular jurors. The alternates can fill a vacancy left by one of the regulars if for some reason they cannot complete the trial.

Cherry said ultimately, it was Laura Kilmer’s decision regarding how the court would proceed. She sought a mistrial.

When asked by the judge, Shaw didn’t object to the mistrial even though he was prepared to prosecute the case.  Shaw said he wanted to proceed “cleanly” and to avoid any appellate issues; therefore, he wouldn’t object to the mistrial if the defendant wanted it.

The current trial resumes this morning at 9 a.m. and is expected to wrap up today.

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