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Pasco homeless man on trial for manslaughter

NEW PORT RICHEY — Kimberly Goode spent the last night of her life hanging out at a homeless camp off U.S. 19, drinking with three friends.

The drinking went on for hours, but that wasn't unusual. It led to arguments, which also wasn't unusual.

At one point on this night last June, Goode was sitting on a recliner with another woman named Cynthia Geller. Two men, William Johnroe and Paul Pelchat, were with them around the fire. There was an altercation between the women, and Goode punched Geller.

That set off Johnroe, according to witnesses and authorities, who punched Goode in return. Then things settled down. Goode retreated to her tent and the others went on drinking.

An hour or more went by — no one can really remember — and Goode emerged from the tent wielding a club the size of a baseball bat. She swung it at Johnroe, who grabbed the club before being hit. Then, authorities said, he turned it on Goode.

By the time it was over, her face was smashed, her dentures were broken. She had broken ribs and broken fingers. Sometime that night, she died. She was 46.

Johnroe, 34, is on trial this week charged with manslaughter. Prosecutors say Goode was defenseless as he pummeled her to death.

"This was not self-defense," Assistant State Attorney Chris Jensen told jurors. "This was not justified, it was not excusable."

But Gary Welch, Johnroe's attorney, told jurors that his client was never the instigator.

"What Mr. Johnroe did was never initiate the fighting," Welch said. "Ms. Goode started it every time. He ended it every time."

Johnroe, a registered sex offender who spent 13 years in prison, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if convicted.

Pelchat and Geller both testified Tuesday about the day Goode died. Their daily habit, Pelchat said, was to panhandle or hold signs on U.S. 19 until they had enough money to buy booze for the day.

After the beating, Pelchat said, he helped Johnroe drag the body deeper into the woods. Johnroe tried to dig a grave, but it wasn't big enough. So they covered the body with one of the tents and palm fronds, Pelchat said.

Weeks later, the three of them traveled to Clearwater. Pelchat and Geller both said Johnroe had been threatening them if they reported Goode's death.

Johnroe said "if he went down, we would go down with him," Geller testified.

Once they were free of him, Geller called police, and she and Pelchat led them to the body. It had been more than a month since Goode died.

Welch pressed Pelchat on how the attack began.

"She was trying to hurt him?" Welch asked.

"In my opinion, yes she was," Pelchat said.

"She just wasn't waving it at him a little bit, right?" Welch asked.

"No," Pelchat said.

"His hand was raised?" Welch asked.

"In self-defense, yeah," Pelchat said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco homeless man on trial for manslaughter 04/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 8:42pm]
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