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Kenoza Lake murder trial begins 

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MONTICELLO, NY — A locked door, a birthday card and a single sentence will be “damning” to Toby Smith’s insanity plea in the 2018 murder of 83-year-old Lorraine Gempler, said District Attorney Jim Farrell at the first day of the trial September 4. 

Farrell gave the prosecution’s opening statement Wednesday, where Toby Smith was on trial for murder in the first degree, two counts of murder in the second degree, four counts of burglary in the first degree, burglary in the second degree, attempted assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree, strangulation in the first degree and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.

The first day of the trial included testimony from the two “good Samaritans” who were eventually able to restrain Smith, David Slater and Tom Gain, as well as Gempler’s daughter, Joy Finn. Detectives and an investigator for the District Attorney’s office also testified. 

Smith waived his right to a jury trial, so Judge Michael McGuire will make the final decision on the case.

What happened, in brief, on Sept. 24, 2018

The testimony, evidence and recordings of 911 calls and an interview with Smith created a sketch of what happened that day last fall.

Smith, 45, was driving his car along Route 52 when he ran out of gas. He left his car on the side of the road and took his dog, Hades, out for a walk. 

He walked into Gempler’s home with his dog on Swiss Hill North Road, removed his sweatshirt, ate a candy, according to his own account, and allegedly took $20 from a birthday card Gempler had readied for a young grandson. At the time, Gempler was eating dinner with her daughter Joy Finn and her grandson, who was on leave from the Navy. 

Shortly after Smith arrived, Gempler came home from dinner to find the stranger in her house. Smith allegedly picked up a heavy blue vase and struck Gempler in the head at least three times, causing severe injuries. 

After Smith attacked Gempler, her longtime friend David Slater showed up at the house as he typically did, to watch “Jeopardy” and chat.

When Slater, a farmer, volunteer firefighter and Liberty school teacher, arrived he found her usually unlocked side door, locked. Through the windows, he could see Gempler on the ground, covered in blood, and Smith standing nearby. 

Slater couldn’t get into the house, so he called 911. A recording of his call was played at the trial on Wednesday. Slater went into the garage to get a broom, as a method of “self defense,” he said in court. He began banging on the windows of the house telling Smith to leave. 

Eventually, Slater said, Smith attacked him in the passenger seat of his truck. He struck Slater on the nose with the vase, causing a laceration. Slater was able to subdue Smith in a headlock and began hitting the horn on his truck with his elbow to call for help. 

Hearing the noise, Gempler’s daughter, Joy Finn, who lived next door, came to the house. “I thought [Slater] was having a heart attack or something,” she said, when she saw him slightly slumped over on the wheel of his truck. Slater told Finn to go inside the house and help her mother. 

Finn’s route to her mother was blocked by the dog. Another frantic 911 call, made by Finn, was also played at the trial. 

Meanwhile, neighbor Tom Gain, who had been employed by the Villa Roma until his retirement in 2016, showed up in response to the beeping. Gain grabbed the legs of the man Slater was holding. The two men were able to get Smith onto the pavement, where Slater tied his wrists with a belt and Gain held his legs. 

That’s how Deputy Michael Barrett found the scene when he showed up. After securing Smith in his patrol car, Barrett went into the house and pepper sprayed Hades the dog into a back room. When Smith was subsequently transferred to Deputy Justin McFadden’s patrol car, he began to have a seizure and was transported by ambulance to Catskill Regional Hospital. 

Gempler was taken to the hospital as well and passed away from her injuries, which included three fractures to the skull.

According to Farrell, when Smith awoke in the hospital and was asked if he knew where he was, he said “I f****ed my life up.” Farrell said that was an indication that Smith knew what he had done and was coherent. 

On September 25, 2018, Smith was transferred to Orange Medical Center, where, handcuffed to a bed, he was interviewed by Investigator Timothy Dowling and Ed Klaus. That interview was played in court Wednesday. 

Smith was emotionally distressed and crying throughout the interview. He said he was “going stir crazy,” thought he was “gonna die” and that he thought he was being chased on the day he entered Gempler’s house. He said he did not know the woman but knew she was “from the community.” He knew that she had died. 

Discrepancies in what Smith said in that interview, compared to reality, such as saying that he’d hurt someone else and that he thought Gempler’s name was “Helen,” are what his lawyer Timothy Havas is using to make the case that Smith was not in his right mind. Additionally, Havas questioned the investigators about whether they had asked what kind of sedatives or medications Smith was on in the hospital before interviewing him. 

Farrell relayed that Smith’s ability to lock an unlocked door, steal money from a birthday card and admit to having killed a woman as well as remembering where he had left his car, the color of the vase and other details, show that he was coherent and thoughtful on the day of the crime. 

Additionally, Smith told investigators that he had thought about killing someone before.

These details, as well as forthcoming testimony from doctors, are what the opposing lawyers will use to prove their points about Smith’s sanity. 

The River Reporter will provide an update with Judge Michael McGuire’s final ruling. 



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