Diane E. Kidwell testified today that she shot and killed her neighbor's farm manager last fall as he bulldozed a right-of-way across Kidwell's property because, "I was afraid for my husband, afraid for my brother, afraid for my children."
Kidwell, on trial for murder at the tiny Rappahannock County courthouse here, claimed she acted in self-defense in the shotgun slaying last Nov. 9 in which Rance Spellman, 35, manager of the neighboring Points of View Farm, died instantly.
"Mr. Spellman had an awful, awful look on his face. He was glaring. He looked mean, mad and dangerous," Kidwell said, describing Spellman moments before she fired the single blast that killed him. "I saw his hands come up (off the controls) and he reached inside his jacket. I thought he was going to kill me," she said.
Kidwell testified she pointed her shotgun out the window of the pickup truck she was in and pulled the trigger. "The gun came down. He was still looking at me. I didn't know whether I'd hit him or not. I was screaming, 'Get off! Get off!' I got out and held the gun on him. I was hollering as I backed up (toward the house). Then he slumped over."
A series of defense witnesses testified in circuit court today that Spellman had a reputation in this scenic, rural area 80 miles west of Washington, D.C., for "turbulence and violence," criteria under Virginia law for the self-defense claim.
The Kidwells were locked in legal battle with Patricia Saltonstall, owner of Points of View, over the right-of-way when the shooting occurred.
Spellman had a rifle and a concealed, loaded pistol with him, according to undisputed trial testimony. Kidwell acknowledged under cross-examination by prosecutor Steven Merril, however, that she did not see the weapons before she fired a single shotgun blast, striking Spellman in the chest.
Clenching her hands and struggling at times to retain her composure, Kidwell testified she awoke at 7:20 a.m. on Nov. 9 and minutes later "heard a roaring coming down the mountain."
She said she called Rappahannock Sheriff W.A. Buntin to ask for help, but was told by Buntin he "didn't want to get involved" and "didn't want to mess with Spellman and Saltonstall."
Buntin earlier today denied making the second statement. The sheriff testified he told Kidwell he lacked authority to settle the land dispute and "didn't want to get involved" in the right-of-way battle.
"I made a decision, a decision I had to go down and protect my property," Kidwell told the jury.
"Why did you pick up the shotgun?" asked Kidwell's defense lawyer, John Dowd.
"For protection . . . from Mr. Spellman," she said.
Kidwell testified she placed the shotgun inside her pickup truck, apparently without Spellman seeing the weapon, then positioned the truck to block Spellman's path. She sat in the truck for 20 or 25 minutes watching Spellman work, she said.
Kidwell said her brother, Ronald Farmer, tried to talk to Spellman, but was unsuccessful. Farmer told his sister he thought Spellman had a gun inside his down vest, she testified. Then Farmer returned to the Kidwell house, leaving his sister in the truck.
"I watched (Spellman) knock down (the Kidwells') trees, the fence, fence posts, the gate," she said. "It (the bulldozer) was so loud and so big." She said the machine came so close to the truck that "all I could see at that point was that big blade."
She testified Spellman yelled to her to move the truck, or "it would be rolled over, pushed over." She said she refused and that she fired after the bulldozer continued to come toward her.
Virginia State Trooper Rufus Banes Jr. testified he arrived about five minutes later and found a loaded pistol in a holster near Spellman's left armpit.
Kidwell also testified, however, she had seen Spellman reach inside his vest once before the fatal blast and pull out a cigarette.
The jury is expected to begin its deliberations tomorrow.