Guilty verdict in Kenoza Lake murder

Posted 9/19/19

Press release: District Attorney Jim Farrell announced today that Toby J. Smith, 45, of Jeffersonville, N.Y. was found guilty of Murder in the 2nd Degree (2 counts), class A-1 felonies, Attempted …

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Guilty verdict in Kenoza Lake murder

Posted

Press release: District Attorney Jim Farrell announced today that Toby J. Smith, 45, of Jeffersonville, N.Y. was found guilty of Murder in the 2nd Degree (2 counts), class A-1 felonies, Attempted Assault in the 1st Degree, a class C violent felony, Assault in the 2nd Degree, a class D violent felony, Strangulation in the 1st Degree, a class C violent felony, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 3rd Degree (2 counts), class D felonies; after a non-jury trial before County Court Judge Michael McGuire.  The trial started on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 and continued with the opening statements, presentation of evidence by the District Attorney, presentation of evidence by the defense, the District Attorney’s rebuttal evidence and summations of the trial attorneys.   Ultimately, Judge McGuire rejected the defendant’s claim of insanity in his verdict and convicted the defendant of seven felony offenses, acquitting him of Murder in the 1st Degree and several counts of burglary. 

At trial, the People established that the defendant unlawfully entered the home of Lorraine Gempler, 83, located on Swiss Hill Rd. North in the Town of Delaware on the evening of September 24, 2018 and intentionally caused her death by striking her multiple times in the head with a heavy blue glass vase as well as manually strangling her.   As the defendant was in the process of murdering Mrs. Gempler, her friend and neighbor, David Slater, arrived to visit.  Mr. Slater saw the defendant standing over the beaten and bleeding victim and immediately called 911.  While Mr. Slater was on the phone with 911 the defendant exited the Gempler home and engaged him in a physical altercation.  The defendant then, using the same heavy blue glass vase he used to bludgeon Mrs. Gempler, attempted to seriously injury Mr. Slater by swinging it at his head.  Slater deflected the blow off his nose.  A physical fight between Mr. Slater and the defendant ensued and Slater restrained the defendant in a head lock.  Mr. Slater summoned the help of a another neighbor and the two men held the defendant until the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene and took the defendant into police custody.  The investigation into these vicious crimes was led by the Sullivan County Sheriff with assistance from the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Unit (FIU), the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office.  NYSP FIU found a fingerprint of the defendant on a birthday card that had been addressed to one of the victim’s great-grandchildren which was found torn open inside the Gempler home.  In addition, DNA evidence, as developed by the New York State Police Crime Laboratory in Albany, N.Y., established that the defendant had the victim’s blood on his jeans and boots and her blood was found on the murder weapon; and the defendant’s DNA was found under the victim’s fingernails and on the murder weapon.

The issue in the case was whether, at the time of the crime, the defendant was insane.  In New York sanity is presumed and the defendant had the burden to establish, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that he suffered from a mental disease or defect that caused him not to know or appreciate: the nature and consequences of his actions; or that his actions were wrong.  In support of this argument, defendant called Dr. Kevin Smith and the People in rebuttal, called Dr. Sandra Antoniak.  Smith opined that the defendant was insane, but Dr. Antoniak concluded that the defendant knew what he was doing and was not insane. 

Farrell said that the first words the defendant uttered at Orange Regional Medical Center were “I f***ed my life up” as witnessed by Sheriff’s Detective Richard Morgan.  Defendant was ultimately interviewed by Det. Edward Clouse and District Attorney Investigator Timothy Dowling at ORMC where he admitted to breaking into the home, striking the victim, and being choked by a man who showed up at the house.  Defendant, in that statement to police, clearly, expressed his knowledge of the nature and consequences of his actions including acknowledging that the victim died and describing the man who came to her aid as “Community Watch”.  In addition, defendant was asked if he had thought about hurting anyone before and he replied that he had and that he “wanted to take someone out with [him].”  Farrell said his trial theory was that the defendant killed Mrs. Gempler because she caught him in the act of burglarizing her home and then, when observed by Slater in the home, sought to eliminate him as well.

Farrell thanked the Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police and members of his Office for all their hard work in this case.  “The pain that the Gempler family has suffered is enormous.  The acts of violence and murder perpetrated here by this defendant were pure evil and there is no verdict that can restore this family to the way it was when they shared their last meal with Mrs. Gempler immediately before this defendant viciously and cruelly killed her.  I am pleased that the Court rejected his insanity defense and that the defendant will be spending up to the rest of his natural life in a state prison - where he belongs so he cannot harm anyone else.  I believe that the evidence I presented supported a finding that the defendant was in the act of a burglary of the victim’s home at the time he decided to kill and innocent woman.  Nonetheless, the Court rejected the defendant’s insanity defense and found that this defendant’s actions against both Mrs. Gempler and Mr. Slater were intentional and criminal.”

The defendant faces up to 40 years to life when he is sentenced on December 20, 2019.   Farrell said he will ask the Court at sentencing to hold the defendant fully accountable and responsible for all of these violent crimes.

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