MONTICELLO, NY — The mood was somber in the Sullivan County Courthouse on September 19 when the verdict in the Kenoza Lake murder case was handed down. The suspect, 45-year-old Toby Smith, who was shackled hand and foot, looked frightened and nervous. Two officers from the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office stood just three feet from Smith for the entire procedure.
There were several staff members of the court on hand. Smith’s attorney Timothy Havas and former Sullivan County District Attorney Steve Lungen sat at the defense table. Sheriff Mike Schiff stood off to the side. District attorney Jim Farrell sat in the part of the court used to seat members of the public.
Judge Michael McGuire sat down at the bench, thanked the people who had worked on the case and then methodically read the list of charges, stating whether McGuire found Smith guilty or not on each charge. Smith was found innocent of the first charge, murder in the first degree, which would have required premeditation. Ultimately, McGuire announced that Smith was guilty two counts of second-degree murder and several related charges.
No one gasped when the verdict was issued, no one applauded or made any sound indicating approval of the verdict, perhaps because the verdict was expected. The facts of the case were well known through accounts in various media outlets. Smith illegally entered the home of 83-year-old Lorraine Gempler in Kenoza Lake on September 24, 2018, intending to burglarize the residence. Gempler came home and surprised him. Smith hit her on the head with a vase, causing an injury that later claimed her life.
A press release from Farrell’s office described what happened next. “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 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 press release said that examination of DNA evidence showed “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 question for the judge was this: at the time of the murder, was Smith insane? One expert said he was, another one said he wasn’t. When he was in custody after being arrested, Smith suffered a seizure. Farrell said “the first words the defendant uttered at Orange Regional Medical Center were ‘I f***ed my life up,’” according to a deputy at the scene.
Sentencing is set for December 20, and Smith faces up to 40 years to life behind bars. Farrell said, “I’m 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.”
The sheriff’s deputies quietly led Smith away after the judge finished speaking.