Kathleen Kelley was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher on Oct. 6, 2013, calmly asking for police to come to her father’s North Yarmouth bee farm to resolve a property dispute.

But the tone of her call changed suddenly after the sound of gunshots was heard in the background.

“Oh my God, he just shot my husband,” Kelley screamed in the recorded 911 call to Marcia Gilpatrick, a dispatcher at the Maine State Police barracks in Gray.

Jurors heard the recording of the call Monday, during the first day of the murder trial of Merrill “Mike” Kimball, the 72-year-old lobsterman charged with shooting 63-year-old Leon Kelley.

The shooting followed a bitter, ongoing rift between the two men’s families over the bee business built up by Stan Brown, a 95-year-old master beekeeper well known in the state’s small beekeeping community.

Gilpatrick was the first witness in the trial at the Cumberland County Superior Court, which is expected to continue for the rest of the week.

Kimball maintains he acted in self-defense when he fired three shots into Kelley’s torso after Kelley assaulted him, and after other members of Kelley’s family assaulted Kimball’s wife and her son.

But Assistant Attorney General Matthew Crockett, who is prosecuting the case, said in his opening statement to the jury that Kimball “overreacted” and could simply have waited for police to arrive.

“This was not a kill-or-be-killed situation,” Crockett said.

Kimball’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, said Kimball had no choice but to fire after the Kelley family’s aggression and after Kimball had already retreated 35 to 40 feet after being assaulted.

“The entire Kimball family that were there were being assaulted simultaneously at that point, and (they had not lifted a hand),” Lilley said. He added that Kimball is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 170 pounds, while Leon Kelley was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 285 pounds.

Lilley began his opening statement by repeating the first words Kimball told police when officers arrived at the scene of the shooting.

“The first words out of his mouth were, ‘What was I supposed to do? He came at me. I’m 70 years old,’ ” Lilley said.

Both sides explained to the 14-person jury – including two alternates – of eight men and six women that the question of self-defense is the key to the case. But Crockett contended that the killing was unlawful because Kimball was uninjured and nothing Kelley had done justified Kimball’s use of deadly force.

Kimball was at Brown’s Bee Farm on the day of the shooting with his wife, Karen Thurlow-Kimball, who managed the farm for Brown, the owner of the business. Kimball and his wife’s son Damon Carroll were there to help Thurlow-Kimball retrieve thousands of dollars worth of honey she had at the business in about two dozen 50-pound jars, Lilley said days after the shooting.

The Brown and Thurlow-Kimball families had been at odds since Brown included Thurlow-Kimball in his will, leaving the bee business to her along with four acres of his 10-acre property off Greely Road.

Brown’s daughters – including Kelley’s wife – and other members of the family were concerned that Thurlow-Kimball was taking advantage of Brown as the older man’s memory began to fade.

Kelley had been visiting Brown at his house across the street from the bee farm when Kimball and his family arrived to load the honey jars. Kelley drove the short distance to the business, confronted Kimball and told him to leave. The two men had never met before that day.

The confrontation was prompted by a phone call by Kathleen Kelley’s son Craig Rawnsley to Thurlow-Kimball. He accused her of wrongdoing and told her “things were going to change at his grandfather’s farm,” Crockett said.

Kathleen Kelley can be heard on the 911 call moments after her husband was shot, calling Thurlow-Kimball a “liar” and a “thief.”

Prosecutors expect to call several members of Kelley’s family and some police witnesses to testify Tuesday.

The state’s witness list includes Brown, the bee farm patriarch, and other members of the Brown family. Thurlow-Kimball is also listed as a witness for the state, along with her son. It is unclear whether Kimball will testify.

 

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