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Archive for Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Witness in Topekan’s slaying recounts shooting incident

March 11, 2003

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A witness in a Douglas County murder trial admitted to kidnapping a man, holding a gun to his head, putting his corpse in a locker, burying it at a Lecompton dump site and pouring lime on it to help it decompose.

But the man who made these admissions Monday, Gary F. Holmes, wasn't the one on trial. He was in court to testify that he stood by as another man, Michael W. Kesselring, pulled the trigger.

Kesselring, 42, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Topeka resident Dale A. Miller, whose body was found in April 2001 at a private Lecompton dump site.

Holmes, who wore shackles on his feet and an orange jumpsuit Monday in court, previously pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges in exchange for his testimony.

Holmes described how he and a group of men kidnapped Miller at a Topeka home because they suspected Miller stole a stash of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine from a drug syndicate.

Holmes described being "drunk as hell" during the kidnapping, passing out in the back seat of a borrowed car and waking up in the car shortly before Kesselring pulled to the side of the road in Lecompton.

Holmes testified that after the car stopped, he popped the top on a beer and got out to urinate. He said that as he urinated, Kesselring ordered Miller out of the front passenger seat and demanded to know where the drugs were.

He said Kesselring threatened to kill Miller, and Miller began pleading.

"He's pleading," Holmes said. "And then, 'Bam.'"

Holmes testified that he didn't know Kesselring was going to shoot Miller but said he later learned that the man who was second in command of the syndicate, Michael "Money Mike" Reece, had allegedly paid Kesselring for the killing. Reece has since died of cancer.

At various points in the investigation, Holmes has described fearing that Kesselring would shoot him, too.

"I go to get in the passenger side. He says, 'Gary, help me throw him over the bridge,'" Holmes said. "I grabbed one end, and Kesselring grabbed the other end, and we threw him over the bridge."

Holmes said he and Kesselring went back to the site a couple of days later to drag the body under the bridge at Reece's request. He also said that a few days later, he helped wrap the body in a tarpaulin, put it in a locker and drive it to the dump site a few miles away.

Holmes said that when he first spilled his story to Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Jeff Hupp a year ago, he didn't admit moving Miller's body because he felt ashamed.

"I knew that his family would be in this courtroom, and I didn't want to admit to anybody that I had personally poured lime on their son," he said. "I felt it was pretty heinous and cold-blooded to do that."

During cross-examination, Kesselring's attorney, Martin Miller, zeroed in on this discrepancy and others in Holmes' statements. Miller tried to paint a picture that Holmes concocted the story along with other participants in the drug ring.

"Is that why you were pointing the finger at Mike Kesselring? To take the heat off yourself?" Miller asked.

"Absolutely not," Holmes said.

The trial continues today and is expected to last through the week.

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