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Kirk Zimmerman's defense lawyer, John Rogers, standing, is shown at a hearing earlier this year in McLean County Circuit Court. Assistant State's Attorney Adam Ghrist is at left.  

DAVID PROEBER, PANTAGRAPH FILE PHOTO

BLOOMINGTON — A jury will be allowed to hear circumstantial evidence that may link Kirk Zimmerman to the death of his ex-wife, including testimony about a trip to Indiana where he may have bought a gun and financial reports that prosecutors say show a man whose assets were dwindling sharply after a contentious divorce.

Judge Scott Drazewski ruled Tuesday that prosecutors will be allowed to present evidence that Zimmerman's car traveled to Crawfordsville, Ind., on Oct. 25, 2014 — about a week before Pam Zimmerman was shot to death in her Bloomington office.

First Assistant State's Attorney Adam Ghrist argued that data collected by police from Zimmerman's 2011 Hyundai Sonata shows he went to Indiana where he may have purchased the hand gun used to shoot his ex-wife multiple times on Nov. 3, 2014.

Ghrist acknowledged the weapon used to kill the 53-year-old victim has not been found, but circumstances surrounding Zimmerman's actions in the days leading up to her death show "a desire to disguise or hide this travel to Indiana."

On his way to Indiana, Zimmerman stopped briefly in Champaign where his former wife was attending a volleyball game for one of couple's children. He continued on Interstate 74 to Crawfordsville where he stayed less than 50 minutes before heading back to Bloomington, said Ghrist.

The state's lack of proof that Zimmerman, 59, actually bought a gun in Indiana should exclude the information from the trial, argued defense lawyer John Rogers.

"Opportunity doesn't equal motive. Opportunity doesn't equal the purchase of a gun," said Rogers.

Several other factors support the state's contention that Zimmerman killed his wife, contended Ghrist, including the suspect's efforts to disable the locator device on his recently installed Sirius radio system and the use of a cleaning system to wipe all internet search records from his computer.

Gunshot residue found on the gear shift handle of Zimmerman's car after his arrest in July 2015 links him to a weapon — despite Zimmerman's denial that he ever owned or fired a gun, said Ghrist.

Drazewski ruled prosecutors will need to provide expert testimony if they intend to argue that Kirk Zimmerman went to Indiana because it's easier to buy a gun in that state.

Ghrist said he plans to have a witness testify about the differences between Illinois and Indiana gun laws.

"Indiana by a long margin is the largest out-of-state contributor to guns in Illinois," said Ghrist.

Rogers told the prosecutor to expect a pre-trial challenge to such testimony.

Also, a forensic accountant for the FBI will be allowed to share with a jury his report on the Zimmermans' finances before and after their 2012 divorce, according to Drazewski's ruling.

In his effort to bar the testimony, Rogers said Thomas L. Byers is a biased source employed by law enforcement whose conclusions are confusing and misleading.

The state's theory of the murder turns on financial disputes between the couple. Byers' report contends the defendant was struggling to pay his bills and child support after the divorce.

The defense disagrees, saying records will show "Mr. Zimmerman's financial situation was just fine" in November 2014.

Assistant State's Attorney Brad Rigdon countered that the defense objects to the report because of its negative view of Zimmerman's finances.

"The reports shows a financial motive for the murder because he's hemorrhaging money. He's bleeding $1,600 a month," said Rigdon.

The expert's testimony could help jurors understand the 1,000 pages of financial records reviewed as part of the case, the judge ruled. The defense contention that Byers' opinions are not valid can be taken up at the trial during cross examination of the witness, said Drazewski.

The hearing on pre-trial motions ended with the setting of a Dec. 20 hearing on at least three more motions related to potential evidence. No trial date has been set.

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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Reporter

Reporter for The Pantagraph.