Larry Kitchens, left, is escorted by Bailey County Sheriff Richard Willis as the two return from lunch recess Wednesday during Kitchens’ murder trial. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
MULESHOE — The defense attorney for a Muleshoe man charged with killing three people told a jury Wednesday his client accidentally shot his ex-wife and another man he barely knew.
Larry Brent Kitchens, 52, drove to Vince Simnacher’s home in October of 2003 and in the heat of “passion” killed him with a semi-automatic assault rifle, Kitchens’ attorney Richard Wardroup told jurors during opening arguments at the Bailey County Courthouse. But he never meant to shoot and kill his ex-wife, Rhonda June Kitchens, 48, and Derwin Wyn Beauchamp, 43, the Lubbock-based attorney said.
“Larry didn’t go to the house with a grudge against his wife,” Wardroup said.
District Attorney Johnny Actkinson thinks otherwise.
Actkinson claims Kitchens — who showed little emotion when the state presented photographs of the victims at the crime scene — intentionally killed each of the three victims, all of whom died at Simnacher’s home 10 miles south of Muleshoe. Several shell casings were found in different areas of the home after the shootings, testified Dusty McCord, a former Texas Ranger in charge of the investigation.
Actkinson has charged Kitchens with capital murder — the most serious type — but is not seeking the death penalty.
If convicted, Kitchens could receive life in prison, Actkinson said.
Wardroup said the crime was fueled by a heat of passion, which allows for a reduced sentence between two and 20 years.
Wardroup didn’t go into details during opening arguments about how Kitchens’ could have accidentally killed Beauchamp and his ex-wife.
The state presented testimony that the assault rifle used in the killings could not easily shoot by accident.
Kitchens’ had a running feud with Simnacher, 61, who was providing Kitchens’ son with money for drugs, namely methamphetamine, Wardroup told the court.
“Larry abhorred drugs,” Wardroup said.
Kitchens, his lawyer said, committed the crime after he was harassed during a phone conversation he had placed to the Simnacher home.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Wardroup told jurors. “(Simnacher) had regular parties with a core cast of characters, people who would harass Larry.”
Both attorneys allege that Simnacher and Kitchens were drinking the night of the incident. Photographs presented in court reveal beer cans and half-full cocktail glasses at Simnacher’s home. Bailey County Sheriff Richard Willis testified that he smelled alcohol on Kitchens’ breath after his arrest.
The trial may last until the middle of next week, District Judge Gordon Green told jurors when they were selected last week.