A judge sentenced Ted Kimble to at least 107 years in prison on Friday, bringing an end to one of the most notorious murder cases in Guilford County's recent history.
It wasn't the maximum sentence of 157 years that Kimble could have received under his plea bargain, but it was enough to guarantee that he spends the rest of his life in prison for the brutal murder of his wife.The courtroom was quiet as Superior Judge Peter McHugh read Kimble's sentence to a crowd of about 60 people. Then, without making a speech, he simply ordered the bailiffs to take Kimble into custody.
It was an ending that friends and relatives of Patricia Blakley Kimble had been waiting for since the young Sunday school teacher was killed in 1995. But they said they didn't feel any happiness or closure as they left the Greensboro courthouse for the last time.
``My life will never be the same again. Every day I live, I think: Can I live another day without Pat?' said Sheila Blakley, Patricia Kimble's mother.
Sometimes Blakley stops suddenly in the middle of the day, when she sees happy people laughing or singing hymns in church, and she thinks about her dead daughter.
``I just sit there and think, could I ever be happy like these people again?' she said.
She wore a black dress to the court hearing Friday because somehow the day felt a lot like her daughter's funeral, she said.
Blakley and other relatives and friends tried to describe Patricia Kimble's sweet, vivacious personality to the judge. And how horrible it was that this 28-year-old woman was killed by the person she loved most in life: her husband.
Authorities say Ted Kimble planned his wife's murder, forged her name on a life insurance application and then hired his brother, Ronnie Lee Kimble, to perform the killing in exchange for a share of the life insurance money. Patricia Kimble was shot once in the head and her body was set on fire. When firefighters found her body hours later, it was barely recognizable.
A jury convicted Ronnie Kimble of first-degree murder in September and sentenced him to life in prison. Ted Kimble's case also was scheduled for trial, but he took a plea bargain to avoid the possibility of the death penalty.
``You don't feel elation,' Sheriff BJ Barnes said at the end of the court hearing. ``This is a sad part of Guilford County history that is better behind us.'
As part of the plea agreement, the judge could have sentenced Ted Kimble to anywhere from 70 to 157 years. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
He also entered an Alford plea to eight charges of solicitation to commit murder, which means he will be treated as guilty although he does not admit guilt. Authorities say he offered a fellow inmate $100,000 to kill eight witnesses and to help him escape from prison.
In addition to a lengthy prison term, Patricia Kimble's family wanted other things that the judge could not give them. They wanted Ted Kimble to spend his entire life in solitary confinement, without visitors or contact with the outside world. And they wanted Patricia Kimble's ashes returned to them.
Her relatives said they have been trying to get her ashes back for years, to no avail. As part of the plea bargain, Ted Kimble said he would return the ashes. Then on Thursday, Kimble testified that he didn't have the ashes because he had sprinkled them on a mountain before he went to prison nearly two years ago.
It was a disappointment to her family, but somewhat expected, they said.
``I don't have to have her ashes,' Sheila Blakley said. ``I know where she is ... I feel like she's always with me.'
Before McHugh delivered his sentence, attorneys on both sides tried to sway his decision. Kimble's defense attorneys asked for mercy from the court.
``Please render a judgment that gives this man some hope ... of returning to society after he's paid his debt,' said H.W. ``Butch' Zimmerman Jr., who is one of Kimble's attorneys. Kimble's attorneys declined to comment after the hearing, at the request of Ted Kimble's parents, the Rev. Ronnie and Edna Kimble.
Then Dick Panosh, an assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case, told the judge that Kimble has never showed any remorse for what he's done.
``This defendant lives in a world of bombs and silencers and sniper rifles,' Panosh said. ``He just feels that anyone who gets in his way should be eliminated.'
Patricia Kimble's family said they still live in fear of Ted Kimble. They believe that he may escape from prison and harm them or that he may hire someone to kill them.
``One of the sad parts of all of this is that we who love her feel that we have to watch our backs day and night because we believe there is a hit person out here to get us,' said Richard Blakley, who is Patricia's father. ``And many of us have felt this way since her death on Oct. 9, 1995.'
Authorities say Ted Kimble was working with someone who was not in prison to help him escape. Authorities have never identified that person.
``I think Ted Kimble will always be a threat to escape as long as he's in jail,' said District Attorney Jim Kimel. ``He's a very, very dangerous man. He's right where he needs to be for the rest of his life.'