BLOOMINGTON — The jury considering murder charges against Kirk Zimmerman will hear only some of the more than 40 witness statements obtained by authorities during their investigation into the November 2014 shooting death of his ex-wife, a judge ruled Monday.
The statements include remarks the victim allegedly made to acquaintances and family members before, during and after the couple’s 2012 divorce. Pam Zimmerman, 53, told people she feared her husband of 20 years might harm her if she pressed him for money in the divorce, according to court filings.
First Assistant State’s Attorney Adam Ghrist argued in May that the statements show a pattern of escalating frustration Zimmerman felt over the terms of a financial settlement that derailed his plans to retire around age 55 from State Farm.
An October 2014 demand from Pam Zimmerman for reimbursement of about $4,000 in expenses related to the couple’s three children and her plans to take Kirk Zimmerman back to court to collect the money may have been the last straw, according to the state’s motive theory.
In an 11-page ruling released Monday, Judge Scott Drazewski said the state must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Kirk Zimmerman engaged in the wrongdoing that made his ex-wife unavailable to testify related to the financial settlement proceedings.
Statements related to Pam Zimmerman’s intention to move forward with further child support filings will be admitted, the judge ruled, but statements regarding previously held legal proceedings will not be admitted.
The judgment finalizing the couple's divorce was filed July 20, 2012, and included a "fully negotiated agreement on all property and child-related matters," states the ruling.
Drazewski also ruled that witnesses will not be allowed to testify about Pam Zimmerman’s opinion of Kirk’s Zimmerman’s mood, such as saying that “he was angry” because that would require additional foundational testimony and is conclusory, the judge ruled.
The hearsay statements will not be admissible, he said, because they do not include material facts, are irrelevant, speculative or remote and the value of the evidence is outweighed by its prejudicial effect.
Drazewski had issues with the state's position during a daylong hearing last week when he indicated he was not convinced that many of the statements — some of them containing implied threats to kill Pam Zimmerman — passed the legal hurdle that would allow hearsay statements to be heard by a jury.
Defense lawyer John Rogers contends the statements were made in the normal course of a divorce in which each side wants to keep what they believe is their fair share of the financial resources.
The long delay between the actual statement and police interviews in the murder investigation makes the information irrelevant and prejudicial, Rogers argued.
The state had sought to use what normally would be barred as hearsay under the legal provision known as forfeiture by wrongdoing that allows hearsay in cases where the defendant’s actions were aimed at keeping a person from testifying in court.
At a recent court hearing, Drazewski asked Ghrist to explain how the statements could be specifically linked to the suspect’s alleged plan to kill his ex-wife to keep her from appearing in court at a hearing related to her child support payments.
Ghrist responded that he did not believe such a direct link was necessary so long as the statements also could be used to show a motive for the killing.