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Westmoreland jurors hear Hempfield man describe assault on live-in girlfriend

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A bowl of dumped Ramen noodles enraged Keith Kruel.

Westmoreland County jurors listened to a 17-minute tape on Tuesday to hear Kruel tell police he became so angered during a dispute in his Hempfield home after those instant noodles were dumped on the floor that he kicked his live-in girlfriend like a football.

“It wasn't as hard as I could kick, but it was a pretty good kick, like kicking a football,” Kruel told police.

Jurors heard Kruel's taped statement to police during the first day of testimony in his first-degree murder trial. Prosecutors contend Kruel, 39, killed 40-year-old Tina Marie Ohler on Nov. 13, 2011, after they argued following a night of drinking in two local bars.

Kruel originally told police he passed out on a couch and awoke to find Ohler dead. Paramedics were called by his sister the next morning, according to police.

State police Trooper Ray Andrekanic testified that Kruel gave a series of conflicting statements over three days. He initially denied any involvement in Ohler's death but eventually admitted that he pushed her face into a wall, dragged her across the floor by her hair and repeatedly kicked her in the head and back, the officer testified.

The fight started when Ohler dumped the noodles on the kitchen floor after Kruel refused to eat. He had originally requested the late-night snack, according to police.

Kruel said he wiped blood off the floors and walls and cleaned up the spilled noodles before rescue crews arrived the next morning, Andrekanic testified.

Three days after the suspect's arrest, the trooper testified, Kruel told police: “I killed her. I feel a lot better now that I told what happened. I know I killed her, but I didn't intend to kill her. I can't believe I killed a person I love.”

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanagan told jurors that Kruel intended to kill his girlfriend in the course of the stormy, sometimes violent relationship.

“If you do it over and over again to someone you've hurt before, you've revealed through your conduct your intent,” Flanagan said.

Kruel faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

Defense attorney L.A. Smith told jurors that Kruel killed Ohler as he acted in a negligent, reckless manner, without intent.

“There is no doubt the actions of Mr. Kruel that night were reprehensible. He wishes he could take them back,” Smith said in his opening statement. “The evidence will show that Keith Kruel is guilty of nothing more than voluntary manslaughter.”

Andrekanic will be cross-examined by Smith when the trial reconvenes on Wednesday afternoon.

Westmoreland County Judge John E. Blahovec told jurors to report for court at noon because of weather forecasts calling for heavy snow overnight.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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