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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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Trial begins for Kenoza Lake murder

Defendant plans to plead insanity

Sep 5, 2019

By Isabel Braverman - staff writer

By: Matt Shortall | Democrat
This was the scene the day after Lorraine Gempler was murdered in her Kenoza Lake home. The trial for that case began on Wednesday.
MONTICELLO — Nearly one year after the murder of 83-year-old Kenoza Lake resident Lorraine Gempler in her home, the trial for the accused killer, Toby J. Smith, 45, of Kenoza Lake, began Wednesday morning in the Lawrence H. Cooke Sullivan County Courthouse in Monticello.
Smith opted for a bench trial, which means there will be no jury and only Sullivan County Court Judge Michael F. McGuire will decide the case.
The incident occurred on September 24, 2018 on Swiss Hill Road North, Kenoza Lake.
Authorities say Smith entered Gempler's house when she was not home with the intent to burglarize it. Gempler then returned home and Smith hit her in the head with a heavy vase.
Smith is charged with 13 felony counts including murder, assault and burglary.
In his opening statement District Attorney James Farrell said Smith's actions were “cruel, vicious and had only one goal—to terminate her life.”
Smith's lawyer, Tim Havas from Sullivan County Legal Aid, said he would delay his opening statement.
DA Farrell said that Smith would plead insanity. “The defendant has raised the defense of insanity in this case, and it's the defendant's burden to prove and establish that he was insane at the time of these crimes,” Farrell said.
Many people testified on Wednesday, including Gempler's neighbors David Slater and Thomas Gain, who were witnesses.
Slater is a long-time family friend and frequently visited Gempler at her home. He said he often would visit in the evening and they would watch “Jeopardy!” together, and he said the door was always unlocked.
On that evening of September 24, Slater said he drove to the home to visit Gempler but found the door locked. He looked through the window and saw Gempler on the floor and a man who he later identified as Smith standing near her.
He shouted at Smith to “get away from her” but Smith did not respond nor move. Slater walked away from the home to call 911. The court played that 911 call at the trial.
While he was on the phone Smith approached him but he pushed him off. Smith retreated back into the home, and Slater went to the garage to try and get something to defend himself.
Slater testified that he then went into his truck that was parked in the driveway and Smith entered the truck and another fight ensued. Smith hit him with the same vase, causing Slater's nose to bleed.
Slater then laid his elbow on the truck's horn, hoping to attract someone nearby to help.
The sound of the continuous horn attracted another neighbor, Thomas Gain, who drove to the house. Gain testified on Wednesday that he saw legs sticking out of Slater's truck, and Slater told him to grab the legs.
The two men got Smith out of the truck and held him on the ground until police arrived.
At this time, Gempler's daughter Joy Finn, who lives next door, also heard the horn and came over to see what was happening. Slater told her that her mother was hurt, and she went to the house to see.
But Smith's dog was standing by the door, and Finn said she could not get in the house because the dog was large and aggressive. She also called 911.
The first police officer arrived and handcuffed Smith and put him in the back of his patrol car. Gempler was taken by ambulance and was pronounced deceased.
Other police officers arrived and as they were transferring Smith to another patrol car to bring him to the police station, Smith began to have a seizure. They called an ambulance for him and he was transported to Catskill Regional Medical Center and then transferred to Orange Regional Medical Center.
He was induced into a coma and was revived 13 hours later. He was interviewed by Investigator Timothy Dowling from the District Attorney's Office. The court played the audio from that interview.
Smith said that on that day of September 24 he was feeling “stir crazy” and was driving his car when it ran out of gas. He then walked down the road with his dog and admitted to breaking into Gempler's home. He said he did not know who she was.
In the home he took off his shirt and ate some candy. He also said at the time he feared someone was trying to hurt or kill him, and that earlier he had broken into the Abrahamsville Methodist Church.
The trial reconvened yesterday morning. The court is expected to hear testimony from doctors on whether or not Smith was insane. We will continue to update this story.

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