Man is guilty in triple murder

James “Jimmy” Kidwell He was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.

A jury convicts him of killing two Tulsans in their home as well as a good Samaritan.

After marathon deliberations, Tulsa County jurors found James "Jimmy" Kidwell guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and imposed three no-parole life prison sentences.

An eight-woman, four-man panel that was sequestered in a downtown hotel Thursday morning returned to court Thursday afternoon and convicted Kidwell of murdering Fred Barney, Rebecca Barney and Kenneth Maxwell.

The jury imposed the same punishment on each count -- life without the possibility of parole and a $10,000 fine.

"I'm elated," said Diane Beaver, Rebecca Barney's mother. "Justice was done, as far as I'm concerned."

The 6-foot, 7-inch Kidwell maintained his composure as deputies handcuffed him and escorted him back to jail after District Judge Jesse Harris announced the verdicts.

Kidwell was convicted of fatally shooting Fred Barney, 50, and his ex-wife, Rebecca Barney, 42, early Feb. 22, 2003, inside the residence they shared at 502 S. Yorktown Ave.

Prosecutors maintained that Kidwell set the house on fire by rupturing a gas line to a stove before shooting Kenneth Maxwell, 24, who telephoned 911 from his car outside the house to report the fire.

"I am so thankful to God for this," Shirley Maxwell said of the trial outcome.

She said her son Kenneth Maxwell "was a wonderful young man" who "was trying to help."

After hearing about six hours of closing arguments from lawyers, the jury began deliberating about 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Seven hours later, jurors informed Harris that they were experiencing difficulty in reaching unanimous verdicts.

Prosecutors said indications were that the jury was split then at a 9-3 vote, with the majority voting guilty.

Late Wednesday night, Harris instructed the jury to continue to deliberate. About 3:20 a.m. Thursday, the judge called the panel back into court.

When questioned then by Harris, jurors indicated that they were not hopelessly deadlocked and that rest and a recess could be beneficial to reaching verdicts.

With the assistance of Court Administrator Ann Domin and deputy sheriffs, jurors were shuttled to hotel rooms.

Deputies escorted the panel back to the courthouse about 10 hours later, and they returned to the deliberating room about 2 p.m.

Some three hours later, jurors announced that they had reached verdicts.

First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond said jurors -- who had heard from 36 prosecution witnesses and were presented with more than 100 court exhibits in a case that relied on circumstantial evidence -- indicated that "they looked at every single piece of evidence."

"This was a very difficult, hard-fought case," Drummond said.

Kidwell, 32, did not testify.

In his closing argument, Chief Public Defender Pete Silva argued that Kidwell was "unjustly accused," and he challenged the quality of the police investigation.

Police Sgt. Mike Huff said after the trial that jurors reached the "logical outcome" and that he is "proud of our investigation."

Kidwell and Rebecca Barney communicated through the Internet and met in person on Feb. 21, 2003, according to testimony.

Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler inferred that Kidwell -- who lived near Gore in Sequoyah County -- drove to Tulsa determined to have sex with Rebecca "Becky" Barney and became angry and violent when frustrated in that regard.

Kunzweiler argued that Kidwell had sex with Rebecca Barney at gunpoint after he shot her former husband.

Bill Robinson, the slain woman's brother, said the case illustrates that "women need to be very careful with Internet dating."

Families of the murder victims "stayed strong and held on," Robinson said. He expressed satisfaction that Thursday's result will mean that Kidwell "never breathes free air."

Drummond said that if Maxwell had not stopped to call 911, the murders of the Barneys "may never have been solved."

Testimony indicated that if firefighters had arrived five to 10 minutes later, the house would have been a total loss.

Because firefighters managed to control the fire, investigators recovered evidence that pointed to Kidwell, including a printout of his dating service profile, Drummond said.

Kidwell has been in the Tulsa Jail since March 2003 and awaits a Dec. 15 formal sentencing.

The only other punishment option was life in prison with parole possible. Prosecutors did not pursue the death penalty.

Bill Braun 581-8455