Man Convicted of First-Degree Murder for Shooting Wife Outside Montgomery Church

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009

An accountant from New Jersey sat in a Rockville courtroom this week and calmly confessed to driving four hours to a church in Silver Spring and killing his estranged wife outside Sunday services.

"I lost it. I shot my wife," Kevin Kelly said. "I'm trying to come to grips with it. I just snapped."

Kelly, 53, was banking that jurors would believe his broader story -- that he never planned or intended to kill his wife -- and that he could persuade them to choose the less serious of their two options for conviction, non-premeditated murder. It didn't turn out that way.

After less than an hour of deliberation Thursday, jurors convicted Kelly of first-degree murder. Three of the jurors said after the verdict that the fact that he fired shot after shot outside the church convinced them that he'd made more than a snap decision.

Kelly faces a possible life sentence without the chance for parole.

Wearing a dark suit and white shirt with no tie, Kelly sat stone still as the verdict was read, his hands folded on his lap under the defense table. He displayed little emotion during the trial, even while describing how he shot his wife. His defense attorney, Gary Gerstenfield, had tried to present him as someone who didn't understand how he was acting.

"This is a man who was so wound up -- like a spring -- that he is totally out of touch with any emotion," he said during closing arguments. "When he came to Maryland, I don't think he was in touch with how angry he was."

The three jurors interviewed said that they were swayed by prosecutors' contention that multiple gunshots showed that Kelly was acting with deliberation.

"If he did the first shot and said, 'Oh my God, what have I done,' and tried to help her, to pick her up, then I couldn't have gone for first-degree," said juror Dorathea Vancavage, 62, a teacher.

Kelly, a CPA, testified that during his marriage to Patricia Simmons Kelly, he became increasingly convinced that she was having an affair. He said he didn't know the man's name but had nicknamed him "Junebug" so he could ask his wife about him, as in "What's up with you and Junebug?"

At one point, Kelly said, he moved out of their house, back to New Jersey. He also composed a note, apparently for Junebug, that read: "A man that lies with another man's wife shall surely be put to death."

He said he drove to Maryland to confront the man, thinking he might be at the church service with his wife. He said he took a gun into the People's Community Baptist Church on Feb. 22 "as an equalizer" in case Junebug turned out to be large.

Inside the church, he saw his wife, without Junebug, and the two went outside to talk, according to Kelly. At that point, his wife told him that she could sleep with the entire congregation if she pleased, according to Kelly.

Prosecutor Margaret Schweitzer played up how Kelly pulled out his gun and kept firing. "There was enough time for him to change his mind," she said.

That meant a lot to jurors.

"That's when I finally got it" being premeditated, Nancy Hobler, 53, said.

"It didn't even matter if Junebug existed," Erin Martin, 49, said.

Vancavage, the teacher, added that Kelly's credibility took a pounding when prosecutors went over his statements from when he was questioned by detectives. "Nothing was very consistent," Vancavage said. "I thought he was a horrible witness."

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