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Lawyers for ex-officer give jury grab bag of defenses

By Harriet Ryan
Court TV

(FindLaw) -- He pulled the trigger in self-defense. And in the heat of passion. Corrupt cops hid evidence. The victims asked for it.

After keeping their trial strategy under wraps for nearly two years, lawyers for Roy Kipp, the retired Florida sheriff's lieutenant accused of fatally shooting his wife and her lover, offered jurors Wednesday, the opening day of his capital murder trial, not one defense, but a grab bag.

Kipp, a 44-year-old who spent more than a third of his life in law enforcement, now faces death row if convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the slaying of Sandra Kipp and sheriff's sergeant Jeff Klein, both 35. The killings occurred May 20, 2000, in Naples, where Klein and Kipp both had served in the Collier County, Florida, sheriff's department, but because of pretrial publicity, the case is being tried 50 miles north in Punta Gorda.

Prosecutors, who carefully avoided any mention of an affair between the victims during their opening statement, say Kipp was furious that his wife was leaving him and premeditated the killings by loading his gun and breaking into her new apartment. He had warned his wife's cousin that "if he ever found out that she was doing something, he'd kill her and that's what he did," prosecutor Amira Dajani Swett told the panel of six women and six men.

But defense lawyer Robert Jacobs zeroed in on the adulterous affair, saying "the nature of this case is betrayal." Even while acknowledging Kipp shot the pair, he painted his client as a victim.

"This tragedy would not have occurred were it not for Jeff Klein and the position he put himself in with Roy Kipp's wife," said Jacobs.

Kipp, his lawyer said, wasn't stalking his wife when he peered into her apartment, just checking up on her safety after she failed to return to the family home or answer the phone or front door. What he saw, Jacobs said, floored Kipp.

"Consider catching your wife on the couch in a compromising position of your best friends," Jacobs told jurors, noting killing was "excusable homicide" under state law if the defendant acted in the heat of passion.

But Jacobs also indicated his client was acting in self-defense, "justifiable homicide," after Klein went for a gun. Klein's off-duty revolver was found in his locked truck in the apartment parking lot, but Jacob told the jury that location "didn't add up" and implied investigators had moved the weapon "to cover up for one of their own."

Kipp's co-worker and confidante Peter Lewkowicz, a key prosecution witness, testified Wednesday afternoon that the defendant confessed to him in a phone call three hours after the shooting.

"I waxed 'em," Lewkowicz recalled Kipp saying flatly. Lewkowicz said he knew Kipp was having marital problems and Sandy Kipp had informed her husband a few days before the murder that she was moving out of their house. Kipp, Lewkowicz said, had long suspected she was having an affair and had even confronted her and Klein, who both denied it.

Kipp, the witness said, told him he had tracked his wife to the apartment and peered through the back window. When he saw her with Klein, Lewkowicz said, he "lost it," and burst into the apartment.

Klein ran into the back bedroom, Lewkowicz recalled Kipp saying, and when he emerged, Kipp shot him "four or five times." He then shot at Sandy Kipp who was screaming and threatening to call the police twice and finally shot Klein one more time, Lewkowicz said. Klein was found sprawled in bedroom doorway with eight gunshot wounds. His sheriff's uniform shirt was hanging in the closet. Sandy Kipp was crumpled on the front porch, her portable phone six inches away and in the dial mode. A bullet severed her spinal cord.

"I hope I didn't kill her," Lewkowicz quoted Kipp as saying of his wife.

Under questioning by prosecutor Swett, he said Kipp never mentioned that Klein was armed and never said he had acted in self-defense.

Eleven other witnesses, neighbors at the apartment complex who heard gunshots and police officers who cordoned off the crime scene, also testified Wednesday. Twelve-year-old Shannon Hagenbuch, who lived near Kipp's apartment, recalled hearing the shots and seeing a man running to a white truck. Roy Kipp was driving a white truck when he was arrested.

Sheriff's deputies who went to Kipp's apartment denied seeing a weapon although they acknowledged the dead sergeant's hands were tucked under his body and not visible. Lt. Edward Wozniak brushed off suggestions that his officers had acted unusual at the scene because a fellow officer was killed.

"Only in the light that we need to do things by the book, very professionally," Wozniak said.

Testimony in the case continues Thursday morning. The trial is being broadcast live on Court TV.




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