AUGUSTA — An Oakland woman spent last Wednesday night in jail after refusing to testify during the trial of her husband, who was charged with domestic violence assault and eventually convicted.
It was the second time within about eight months that a woman named as a victim of domestic violence in Kennebec County has ended up jailed in connection with a trial.
In September, Jessica Ruiz, of Chelsea, was arrested as a material witness at the request of District Attorney Maeghan Maloney. Ruiz had not refused to honor a subpoena, but prosecutors believed she did not intend to testify.
Ruiz spent about 17 hours in jail and was released on unsecured bail at the request of attorney Lisa Whittier. Ruiz later testified at the trial of Robert A. Robinson Jr., who was convicted of domestic violence charges related to a three-day attack on her.
Last week, Sheila Kimball, 52, failed to honor a subpoena to be a witness at the trial of Richard J. Kimball, 53, of Jefferson. The prosecutor sought an arrest warrant, which was approved by Justice Donald Marden. He ordered Sheila Kimball arrested and brought directly to Kennebec County Superior Court.
She took the witness stand in her fleece pajamas, which was what she was wearing when police came to her home.
She took the oath to testify truthfully, gave her name, and then remained silent, refusing to answer further questions.
The complaint said the domestic violence assault occurred Sept. 15, 2013, in Oakland.
Whittier, who represented Sheila Kimball at the request of the judge, said Kimball was held in summary contempt because the conduct that occurred, which was disruptive to the trial, was committed in the presence of the court.
Under Maine statute, Kimball could have been jailed for up to 30 days and/or fined up to $5,000.
Maloney said jurors could see that Sheila Kimball “refused to honor the judge’s directions and refused to answer questions.”
Justice Donald Marden found her in contempt of court and ordered her jailed for 24 hours. She was released from Kennebec County jail early Thursday afternoon.
“Because domestic violence is so complicated and there’s so much going on for victims, I made the decision that we would take no position on whether she would be held in contempt, and I’m not charging her with failure to honor the subpoena,” Maloney said.
Maloney said she wants a conversation with the people who work with victims of domestic violence “who understand the emotional conflict felt by victims confronting their abuser.” She said that will help her formulate best practices to deal with domestic violence cases
“Is this the right way we should be prosecuting domestic violence?” she asked.”I am insisting that victims come to trial, but not prosecuting them for not coming. The reason is the prosecution is not just for her but for the community. With domestic violence, she’s not likely to be his one and only victim. I cannot leave it in her hands whether or not we prosecute.”
Margo Batsie, program coordinator for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, echoed that sentiment.
“As an advocacy community we really walk a fine line between advocating for the victim and really ensuring community safety,” Batsie said. “We do want batterers to be held accountable for their actions. That’s the way for a safer community; that’s the best for everyone.”
Batsie said there has been an increase in cases across the country in which prosecutors have gathered so much evidence it becomes unnecessary to rely on the victim’s testimony.
“It is a shift in practice and it is happening in other places, and allows a victim to cooperate with the prosecution and not necessarily face the abuser in court,” she said.
Richard Kimball was sentenced Monday to nine months in jail, with all but 44 days suspended, and two years’ probation. He started probation immediately since he had been held on the charge for about 45 days.
Conditions of probation require him to attend a certified batterers’ intervention program and domestic violence court. He is not permitted to have contact with his wife until he has completed several counseling sessions and she gives her consent.
“We are considering possibly appealing,” said Kimball’s attorney, Darrick Banda. “The only substantive evidence of a crime came from two sources: a 911 tape which was admitted and a hearsay statement to a first responder/paramedic.”
Banda said the basis for an appeal is an issue involving the Sixth Amendment, which allows defendants the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”