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Murder trial ends with a guilty plea

Kevin Kirby walks from the courtroom with Deputy Luke Skidmore (right), Ryan Pike (rear) and detective Sgt. Steve Walker (left). (Salem News photo by Deanne Johnson)

LISBON — Following a morning of testimony in his jury trial in Common Pleas Court, Kevin Kirby pleaded guilty to the 2012 murder of Melinda Todd and attempted murder of her 5-year-old grandson Cole Reed.

Kirby, 46, requested immediate sentencing and after family members of Todd and Reed gathered in the courtroom, he was sentenced to the recommendation in the plea agreement of 20 years to life.

“There not much more I can say that hasn’t already been presented to the court,” said Chief Assistant County Prosecutor Ryan Weikart prior to sentencing. “This was an extremely brutal crime. This defendant was a desperate opportunist that selfishly, took the life of a woman who was a daughter, a mother and a grandmother. In doing so he also beat and severely injured a 5-year-old boy in an attempt to kill him so he could not be identified.”

“This follows the defendant’s selfish MO,” Weikart said. “It always what’s about what satisfies his needs, no matter who he has to hurt, no matter who he has to use.”

Reed is now 14 years old and Weikart said he is “an amazing young man” who has had to go through surgeries and continuous counseling due to what Kirby did to him. Weikart said Reed’s caregivers believe getting past the trial may be the hurdle that allows him to move forward with his life.

Reed was on the list of witnesses the prosecutor’s office planned to possibly call in a trial that was to continue with prosecutor’s witnesses at least into Monday. The guilty plea meant he did not have to come to court and face Kirby.

“I know this day has been several years in the making, but I pray the family can find some solace and gain some closure from this result,” Weikart said.

One of those caregivers, Elmer Milsom spoke prior to Kirby’s sentencing calling him a “monster.” Milsom said Reed has a hard time trying to figure out why he cannot do the things other teenagers are doing and both “Mindy” and Reed never got a choice in all of this.

Her daughter, Erin Brickner, who testified early in the trial how she and her younger sister found their mother dead in the Salem Township home when they got off a school bus on Dec. 3, 2012, talked about how difficult it was to grow up without their mother. In the nearly nine years since her mother’s death, Brickner said her mom has missed so much of their lives growing up and always will.

“For the rest of our lives we won’t have our mom,” Brickner said. “She wasn’t here to see her grandkids grow up. It’s hard to grow up without a parent.”

Another of her children, Nick Todd said he wanted people to know his mother was not a terrible person as she was portrayed during parts of the trial. “She was really, really good to me growing up.”

During testimony it has been noted Melinda Todd had been selling some of the excess pain pills, oxycontin she needed for her own pain. During testimony on Friday morning by Corey Hile, he admitted he and Kirby took oxycontin sometime during the evening of the day of Todd’s murder. He remembered Kirby only let him take half of one because he had never used oxycontin before and Kirby was afraid he would overdose. He said the oxycontin Kirby brought out the evening of the day Todd was killed were in a newer pill bottle with the label ripped off. Hile was around Kirby enough to know he would get “dope sick” if he did not get opioids he was craving at that time.

He also testified after Todd’s murder Kirby repaid him the $100 he had borrowed from him, money Kirby said he did not have on that Monday morning, but had by the time Hile got off work that afternoon.

The first person to testify on Friday morning was Kathy Blankenship, who used to own the Night Court Bar and then served as a manager at the bar after she sold it. Blankenship testified that when she bought the bar from Kirby’s father, “(Kirby) kind of came with it.” He often hung out there. She fed him when he was hungry. He ran up a tab sometimes for the alcohol he drank.

Although in his statements Kirby had told investigators he came to the bar right after he woke up on Monday, Dec. 3, around 11:30 a.m. or noon, Blankenship said he came in right before she left for the day, which was usually around 2 p.m. He appeared to be freshly showered and he was upset because someone had told him he could not throw away a bag of trash in the dumpster. Blankenship said she told Kirby he had done it before and what difference was it. It was different trash she said.

Blankenship said Kirby returned to the bar on Friday, Dec. 7, upset, shaking and angry. He was talking about how he would not hurt a child and was upset he was being questioned about it. At one point he became so angry he punched the refrigerator at the bar two or three times putting a dent into the door. He also asked her to hold his watch for him so if he went away to get mental help nobody would steal it from him. Blankenship said she had him place it in a zip lock bag and a few months later she gave it to deputies.

Another inmate at the county jail, Mark S. Fraser Jr., who has served time there with Kirby in the past also testified. Fraser who admits he has been in trouble a lot since 2000 with crimes that include burglary, breaking and entering, receiving stolen property and drugs, said he wrote Deputy Jeff Haugh a letter after Kirby told him something in jail.

“He said he hit her several times,” Fraser said, “and next thing he knew there was blood everywhere. He said the kid was going to be able to identify him so he hit him several times.”

Fraser also said Kirby told him he had created a fake Facebook account and was using it throw off the investigation.

According to Fraser, Kirby used to use the fact that he was in the county jail, charged with murder, as “a badge of honor” and use it to try to get the guards to do what he wanted them to do.

“I didn’t want to have to testify,” Fraser said. “But this has been on my mind. I didn’t want him to get out of jail and do this to someone else.”

Defense attorney Paul Conn challenged Fraser’s testimony, questioning if he was getting or believed he would be getting some consideration for some of his own charges in the future in return for testifying against Kirby. He said he had no charges pending when he wrote the letter to Haugh.

Conn also asked if Fraser had looked at Kirby’s discovery packet, evidence information he was provided by his attorneys, which may have been left unattended by Kirby in his cell at times. Fraser denied looking at the packet. He also denied asking Kirby to tell him what happened.

“I don’t know why he confessed or told me the details,” Fraser said. “I didn’t want to know about that.”

The final person to take the stand on Friday morning was Joann Gibb, a computer forensics specialist with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations. Gibb was the one who had analyzed the information from Todd’s cell phone and Kirby’s cell phone. She read out loud some of the messages sent and received from each of the phones.

For instance, messages on Todd’s phone indicated she had sold about 30 of her pills on Dec. 1, but did not plan to sell anymore because she needed the rest for herself. She also read messages from Kirby’s phone that indicated he was getting more and more deparate for money and drugs leading up to the day of Todd’s death.

Finally, Gibb testified Todd was very prompt in answering text messages and returning calls. However, her last outgoing message on her phone was at 11:53 a.m., Dec. 3.

Just after the lunch break, Kirby made the decision to end the trial and pleaded guilty to one count of murder, an unclassified felony with a possible maximum sentence of 15 years to life. He also pleaded guilty to attempted murder, a first-degree felony, which could carry a sentence of up to 11 years in prison. He received an additional five years in prison for that charge.

The conviction came after a long investigation that began in 2012 and a trial that began with jury selection on Oct. 5 and testimony starting on Oct. 12.

Weikart said the next person who was going to testify was with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, who would have shown jurors how Kirby cell phone received activity twice around the time of the murder, just northeast of the phone tower that was visible near Todd’s home. Those were at 12:18 p.m. and 12:25 p.m., right about the time Todd’s step-father, John Heim has placed Kirby’s vehicle outside her house.

Following the plea and sentencing, Weikart said with a case that spans several years he does not want to start thanking anyone individually for their hard work because he will miss someone, but “they all have our sincere thanks” from the different investigators both locally and those with the FBI and BCI. Weikart also said he wanted to thank co-counsel Assistant County Prosecutors Tammie Riley Jones and Steve Yacovone for all the hard work and time they put into this case.

“Tammie Riley Jones is really one of the best litigators I know,” Weikart said, adding she acted as a sounding board and a mentor throughout the case. “Her involvement in the case led directly to the prosecutorial success.”

New County Prosecutor Vito Abruzzino also made a statement involving the successful conclusion of the trial.

“We’re very happy that our office was able to finally secure justice for the Todd family,” Abruzzino said. “I believe we’ve assembled one of the best criminal litigation teams in the state of Ohio, and this result show it. Thank you to the Todd family, the sheriff’s office, BCI, FBI and our county commissioners for allowing us to spare no expense in prosecuting a difficult case.”

Jurors were dismissed following the plea and sentencing.

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