Kidnap case in hands of jury

LISBON – A Lisbon man accused of tying up his ex-girlfriend, holding her at gunpoint and threatening to kill her last June placed his fate in the hands of a Columbiana County Common Pleas Court jury on Tuesday.

Jeremy Mollenkopf, 28, South Beaver Street, is charged with kidnapping and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

Through tears, his former fiance, Tabitha Kirtley, told a jury in Judge Scott Washam’s courtroom about her relationship with the man she once believed was everything she wanted in a man, “funny, strong and dependable.” However, after their engagement, Kirtley said Mollenkopf started becoming aggressive toward her when he was drinking and after some bad experiences with him, they broke up in April 2013 after dating about two years.

Kirtley claimed he tried to get her back, but she was firm about ending the relationship. When being nice did not work, he began leaving her threatening messages and at least once led her to believe he had committed suicide.

“I just want you to know I will always be looking over you and the girls and I will always love you,” Kirtley relayed a voicemail message to the jurors, adding then a gun went off. “I thought he killed himself.”

Kirtley testified after the breakup she had met Mollenkopf on several occasions while attempting to get her father’s 12-gauge shotgun back from him. She had the gun for sentimental reasons, but he had used it while they were together to target shoot.

Once, she said, he told her he would drop it on her back porch, but failed to do so. Twice he reportedly took her onto back roads in the Salineville area looking for the home of a man whom he claimed he gave the gun to so it could be repaired. On one of those trips, he claimed he couldn’t find the man’s home and even made what she believes was a fake phone call yelling at the man into his cell phone. On the other attempt, he had a panic attack while pulled over in a wooded area.

On June 28, 2013, Kirtley testified she was on her way home from work in North Lima and had agreed to meet Mollenkopf at his friends’ home on state Route 517, where he told her he finally had the shotgun. He was strangely parked behind a wagon and he placed a cooler with beer, a bag and a wrapped up shotgun into her vehicle. He told her it was not her shotgun, but another one he had bought.

At first he reportedly wanted to drive her Jeep, but she refused because he had been drinking. He then asked for a ride to his parents’ and then requested she take him down another road to look for a lost fender to his car.

She drove on Lower Elkton Road and he got out looking around and rummaging in the backseat. She got out to see what was taking so long.

“He pointed at the tall grass,” she said. “I looked and said ‘There’s nothing there.’ When I turned back he had a gun pointed at me. He said ‘If you ever want to see your daughter again you’ll get the (expletive) over here.’”

Kirtley said she screamed and he threatened to kill her. He grabbed one of her arms and she struggled to keep him from getting the other. She tried to stab him with a pen she found in her pocket, but he tied her wrists with Zip ties, put a piece of duct tape loosely over her mouth and placed her in the passenger seat of her Jeep. He then started driving.

“I just kept thinking I would never see my daughter again,” Kirtley said.

Eventually, he asked her where his beer was and with the duct tape hanging off one side, she reminded him about the cooler in the back. He stopped to get a beer, Kirtley testified, and she made a run for it, even as he warned her to stop or he would kill her. She lost her shoes and fell in gravel. She ran to a nearby home and opened the door, screaming for help.

Melinda Ketchum, who lived at the Darner Road home with her husband Richie, her father Michael Bowen and two children, testified she pulled Kirtley into the house and locked the door behind her. She described Kirtley as “absolutely hysterical.”

Ketchum asked her father, a retired police officer from Stockton, Calif., to wake up and bring his gun. They cut one of the straps off Kirtley’s wrist because her hand was turning blue, called 911 and Bowen with his son-in-law went outside to make sure no one was following Kirtley.

“She was really afraid he was going to come after her and kill her,” Bowen testified. He then responded to a question about whether he felt she was really afraid, “Definitely, I’ve never seen a person more upset than this young lady was.”

Besides marks on her wrists from the Zip ties, Kirtley reportedly had “road rash” on her ankles, foot and knee from falling. She was also afraid Mollenkopf would go to where her young daughter was being watched in Wellsville. Still, she was so shook up without her cell phone, which she said Mollenkopf took, she had a hard time remembering phone numbers.

The next day Kirtley reportedly found her Jeep in Lisbon with two firearms, a half finished beer, a gray hoodie and a piece of duct tape inside. Lisbon patrolman Travis McDade took custody of both her shotgun, which was in two pieces, and an airsoft handgun believed to have been used in the alleged kidnapping. McDade noted the orange cap on the airsoft handgun, which usually would be there to differentiate it from a real gun, was missing when he found the gun.

Deputy Kevin Shulas testified when he questioned Mollenkopf about what happened he told him he had been driving around and the next thing he knew he was tied up in the woods. Mollenkopf spent some time in the hospital before he was arrested.

Deputy James Cannon was the first to testify, laying out the story Kirtley told deputies when they first found her at the Ketchum home.

Two friends of Mollenkopf, Richard Rhodes and his wife Kim Culler, testified on his behalf about the day leading up to the alleged kidnapping, when Mollenkopf spent the day at their home. However, both testified they were asleep when Kirtley reportedly arrived at their home shortly before 11 p.m.

Testimony is expected to conclude today.