Jurors hear evidence in Kirby murder trial
LISBON — Photos and descriptions of the severe head injuries that caused the death of Melinda Todd and a video interview with her young grandson, Cole Reed, conducted less than two months after the “bad man” hit him with a hammer, were both part of the testimony Wednesday when the jury trial resumed against Kevin E. Kirby in the Common Pleas courtroom of Judge Megan Bickerton.
Kirby, 46, of Lisbon, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder in the death of Todd in her Salem Township home in 2012, one count of attempted murder for injuries caused to Reed and one count of tampering with evidence.
Dr. Lisa Kohler, medical examiner for Summit County, went over the results of an examination of Todd’s body on Dec. 4, 2012, a day after her death ruled as a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to her head. Utilizing a Powerpoint presentation, Kohler showed photos taken from the examination that showed one round injury on Todd’s forehead and no fewer than nine similar injuries on the right side of her head. Additionally, Todd had a round bruise on her arm that Kohler said appeared to be a defensive wound as Todd attempted to fight off her attacker.
Kohler also shared with the jury pictures of hemorrhaging and skull fractures. A rectangular portion of the skull on the side of Todd’s head was pushed inward, which Kohler said takes significant force to cause. She also reported to the jury x-rays were done of the head and there was no gunshot wound, which was first thought to have caused Todd’s death. Instead, Kohler testified the wounds were consistent with a blunt surface round object, such as a hammer.
When questioned by defense attorney Paul Conn, Kohler admitted she was not the one who had conducted the autopsy, which was done by Dr. Dorothy Dean, who is no longer with the Summit County Medical Examiner’s office. However, as a supervisor at the time, Kohler had signed off on the report from the autopsy. Additionally, former Columbiana County Coroner Dr. William Graham, who had issued the final death certificate based on the Summit County examination results, died himself in March of 2020.
Conn questioned there being no time of death on the reports. Kohler explained the way a time of death is estimated, but said unless there is heart monitor on the patient she said it is impossible to give an exact time. She also was not able to give Conn an exact amount of “foot to pounds” measurement for how hard someone would have to hit someone to fracture the skull.
Janet Gorsuch, a nurse practitioner through Akron Children’s Hospital in 2012, who assisted with evaluations at the Child Advocacy Center took the stand next, explaining about an interview with the 5-year-old victim Reed, by hospital social worker Diane Russo on Jan. 29, 2013. Jurors were able to watch the interview themselves, where Reed, wearing a helmet to protect his injured head, talked to Russo about what happened.
Although Reed was actually Todd’s grandson, he called her his mother as a child.
Reed told Russo the “bad man hurt me on purpose and my mom.” He went onto describe the man he called “mommy’s friend,” as having brown hair, brown eyes, a beard, big ears, freckles on his face, tall and skinny. But Reed said he could not remember the “bad mans” name and at one point he said “mommy and the man started not to be friends.” When asked by Russo what he meant by that, Reed said they had started to fight.
During the mans visit to the house on Dec. 3, 2012, Reed said the man was walking around house and drinking beer. The man then went out to the garage or his car, which he described as a green Jeep or van, and got a hammer. Reed said the man hit them both with the hammer two times, first his mother and then himself.
“I’m glad he didn’t have a saw,” the small child on the video remarked.
When questioned about the interview on Wednesday, Gorsuch said the child did not show signs of being coached, which is when an adult tells a child what to say before they bring them in.
However, defense attorney James Wise questioned Gorsuch regarding if she was aware the child had already been interviewed three times by investigators before they brought him there. He also asked if Gorsuch if she had anyway of knowing how many times the adults in Reed’s life had spoken about what happened to him and Todd over the nearly two months between the violent attack and that interview at the Child Advocacy Center.
“A 5-year-old, their brain is like a sponge,” Wise challenged Gorsuch, “They pick up and retain things.”
She responded that children do have good memories. When Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones redirected her, Gorsuch talked about how Reed was able to answer open ended questions by giving “experiential details,” sensory details about what he heard or saw or felt.
The final testimony of the day came from Deputy Jeff Haugh, who retired after years as a detective sergeant with the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office, a position he held at the time of the murder in 2012. Haugh has returned to work with the sheriff’s office without his former rank this year.
Haugh described how he responded to Todd’s home when they believed there to have been a shooting on Dec. 3. He also said he saw Reed in the back of the ambulance and asked him who did this.
Haugh told the jury Reed responded, “Mommy’s friend did this to me.”
According to Haugh, deputies checked the house for anyone still inside using flashlights due to the blankets covering the windows and then began trying to piece together what happened. They were assisted at the scene by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the state agency with additional resources to gather evidence. The recently formed Homicide Task Force also was activated to give investigators more manpower.
At first investigators believed Todd had been killed with a large caliber gunshot wound and it was not until the autopsy was performed the next day they realized it was blunt forced trauma.
After learning about the green SUV with temporary tags Reed’s paternal grandmother, Barb Milsom, reported was outside Todd’s house, investigators put out an Ohio-wide alert for police agencies to be on the look out for it. The next day Kirby’s vehicle, matching the description, was repossessed in Lisbon and the company who repossessed it notified the Lisbon Police Department, which is standard practice for any repossession.
A search warrant was obtained and on Dec. 4, the vehicle was searched. A newer prescription bottle from Morgan’s Drug Store in Lisbon with the label removed was found in the vehicle. Also found was a small spot of what investigators believed to be blood on the driver’s door on the button that raises and lowers the window. Haugh testified a swab from that spot tested positive for Todd’s DNA.
Haugh also testified about Todd’s phone, which was found on the hood of a vehicle in the driveway and had been used by the daughter calling 911. Haugh went over text message conversations between Kirby and two women — his sister-in-law, Pam Kirby and a friend, Sandra Reynolds. Before the murder, the messages to Pam Kirby showed Kirby was nearly broke and looking for money. Following the murder, the messages to Reynolds talked about his concerns he was “the main suspect in a double homicide” and thoughts that his life was over.
“I got her smokes on Sunday,” one of the texts to Reynolds read. “I wasn’t there on Monday. I have too many witnesses and alibis to even worry.”
Haugh also testified about another man, Eric Gudat, who approached the sheriff’s office after hearing what happened to say he had been in contact with Todd on the Saturday and Sunday before her death, as well as the Monday when she died.
According to Haugh, Gudat had admitted to investigators he had been to her house to buy some of her prescription pills and she had asked him to help her hang curtains. He also admitted he stopped at the house on Monday afternoon, knocked on the door and called Todd’s name. He entered the kitchen, found a loaf of bread on the floor and then saw what he thought was Reed and Todd sleeping in the darkened living room. Knowing they had both been ill lately, he let them sleep and left.
Haugh said Gudat’s story was collaborated by video of him throughout the day on Monday from other places he had gone both before and after he stopped at Todd’s house. Additionally, Haugh said Gudat did not match the description given of the man and he drove a different type and color of a vehicle, a blue, Nissan Maxima.
Detectives, including Haugh, also interviewed Kirby on Dec. 7 and at the end of the day Wednesday jurors got to hear the audio of that interview. While Kirby admitted to dropping Todd off at her home from the Night Court Bar on Saturday evening, throwing a beer can out of the window of the vehicle before driving away and being back at the home on Sunday for a short time, he denied being there on Monday. Instead he claimed he slept until between 11:30 and noon on that Monday, went to Night Court Bar and then at 2 p.m. met his cousin, Corey Hile at Farmer’s Bank in Lisbon so he could give Hile money to make a deposit. He then said he and Hile and later Hile’s girlfriend hung out at Kirby’s apartment on East Chestnut Street, watching movies and eating pizza the rest of the day.
Kirby also told detectives he knew they would be wanting to talk to him after reading the description of who they were looking for in the newspaper.
Before the end of the interview, Haugh got permission to search Kirby’s apartment and obtained his phone, which they had a warrant to search.
The trial is expected to continue this morning.