CLEARFIELD – After deliberating for almost three-and-a-half hours Tuesday afternoon, a Clearfield County jury found a 40-year-old DuBois woman not guilty of kidnapping her 4-year-old daughter and fleeing with her to Utah.
Laura D. Kilmer, 40, of DuBois faced charges of kidnapping to facilitate a felony, kidnapping to inflict injury or terror and interference with the custody of children. She was acquitted on all three charges.
Jurors emerged from deliberations three times with questions for the court. Approximately 30 minutes into deliberations, the jurors reconvened in the courtroom at 1:33 p.m. with two questions for the court.
First, jurors sought the statutes, which outlined the charges against Kilmer. Judge Paul E. Cherry advised the jury that they weren’t permitted to have them during their deliberations. However, he agreed to read them again for the jury.
The jurors also sought the four pieces of mail, which her husband, Joseph Kilmer’s attorney attempted to have delivered to her between November 2010 and January 2011. Cherry agreed to provide these, but the jurors were told the mail shouldn’t be opened.
Cherry explained that he had his staff tape the four envelopes shut since they wouldn’t be privy to their contents. He ordered jurors to base their deliberations and final verdict solely upon their memory of testimony.
The jury emerged a second time at 2:55 p.m. and asked that Cherry read the statute regarding interference with the custody of children. One juror indicated it was difficult for them to recall the specific language of the statutes, and it was hanging them up in the jury room. This time, Cherry read the statute to the jury twice.
At 3:38 p.m., the jurors emerged with its final questions, indicating they’d reached a verdict for two charges. The foreman told the court they were having trouble agreeing on one charge. He asked if it was possible to only return a verdict on two charges and not the third.
Cherry indicated it was possible, but the court had invested a lot of time in this case. He asked the foreman whether he believed the jury could reach a verdict on the third charge if it was given more time. The foreman said they were close at which point Cherry announced he wanted them to return to deliberations.
Then, the foreman asked Cherry to define “temporary custody” for the jury. He explained it’s a temporary order of the court and only effective for a period of time leading up to a custody hearing. He said temporary custody orders also include a scheduling order for the pending hearing.
“It’s not a permanent thing. It’s only for a certain period of time,” said Cherry. Before the jury returned to deliberations, he again read the statute regarding the interference with custody of children charge.
The jurors reached their verdict at approximately 4:28 p.m. At that time, Cherry said he realized this was a very emotional case for all involved, but he expected order in his courtroom during and after the verdict’s reading.
When Kilmer’s acquittal was announced by the jury foreman, her family members gasped in the back of the gallery. Throughout the jury’s deliberations, Kilmer often looked back upon them, smiling and signaling “I love you.” She sat at the defense table weeping before being granted permission to embrace her family in the back of the courtroom.
Defense Attorney Michael Marshall said he was pleased with the acquittal and indicated Kilmer had been through a lot and it took a lot to get to trial. He said the trial went better than expected and returned a “good outcome,” saying “that’s all that matters.”
Marshall wasn’t sure what played a significant role in the jury’s verdict. He didn’t believe issues with jurisdiction were critical, as the jury wouldn’t have spent so much time hung up on the one charge related to the interference with custody of children.
Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. thanked the jurors for taking the case very seriously and evaluating the evidence extremely closely. He believed they found the “temporary” custody order very important with Kilmer leaving Dec. 16, 2010, the day before its expiration.
“They bought into that argument rather than ours, which was that she fled to avoid the custody hearing. We respect their decision,” said Shaw. He said it was an important case because people can’t abscond from custody proceedings.
“Although it’s a loss, it’s actually a victory . . . [Kilmer’s daughter] is now safe and living with her father. There is a custody order in place. She [Kilmer] is held to that and can’t make up the rules as she goes. Justice was achieved in this case.”
Shaw said both he and Trooper Carol Ponce of the DuBois-based state police knew this case would be difficult to prosecute in court. He believed it was a victory for it to even reach an investigation and then the courtroom.
“If the investigation hadn’t been initiated with the DuBois state police, who knows where Kilmer and [her daughter] might have been today. They might have been in California,” he said. Ponce said that Kilmer had been incarcerated for approximately 18 months while awaiting trial. She didn’t believe some jurors “looked happy” with their not guilty verdict, but they considered it more as their duty.
Kilmer was initially scheduled to stand trial Dec. 28, 2011 for these charges; however, it was declared a mistrial by Cherry.
In December 2011, 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.