Family cheers speedy verdict of 1st-degree murder in Hempfield woman's beating death
By Rich Cholodofsky
Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jurors wasted no time Friday afternoon before finding a Hempfield man guilty of first-degree murder for the beating death of his girlfriend.
The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated just one hour over lunch before they convicted 39-year-old Keith Kruel following three days testimony in his murder trial.
Family members of Tina Marie Ohler cheered when the jury foreman read the verdict.
Ohler, 40, was beaten and kicked to death by Kruel at the couple's Hempfield home on Nov. 13, 2011.
“I'm just glad he's in for life and no one else will get hurt,” said Ohler's mother, Noreen Wolfe, as she choked back tears while leaving the courtroom.
As a result of his conviction, Kruel faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He will be formally sentenced in about two months by Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec.
Prosecutors said Ohler had been in a nine-year abusive relationship with Kruel that ended with her death after a night of drinking at local bars.
They two returned home and fought over a bowl of Ramen noodles that Ohler threw to the ground after Kruel refused to eat them, according to the prosecution.
Kruel gave a series of statements to police in which he described the fight. He first denied any involvement and claimed he found Ohler dead when he awoke the next morning.
Later, Kruel confessed to slamming Ohler's head off a wall or door jamb, kicking her head “like a football” and stomping on her back.
In his closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan told jurors that Kruel clearly intended to kill his girlfriend.
“The actions of Keith Kruel are the best interpreters of his thoughts,” Flanigan said.
He told jurors that Kruel not only intended to kill Ohler, but that he attempted to cover up the crime by scrubbing blood from the walls and floor and vacuuming debris that included the cooked instant noodles.
Earlier Friday, Ohler's former neighbors and family members testified she had been subject to abuse by Kruel dating back to 2002.
Kruel was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of simple assault against Ohler in 2002, according to police witnesses.
Excela Health Westmoreland emergency room Dr. William Jenkins testified Ohler suffered substantial facial fractures, broken ribs and a collapsed lung in that incident.
Flanigan told jurors that in 2005, Ohler obtained a protection from abuse order against Kruel following a violent fight.
Ohler's former husband testified that Kruel beat Ohler in 2006.
The defense presented no evidence during the trial and Kruel did not testify on his own behalf.
Defense attorney Anthony Bompiani asked jurors to find Kruel guilty of a lesser offense, involuntary manslaughter.
Bompiani said jurors should have reasonable doubt as to Kruel's intentions.
“He wasn't covering up. It was the fact he genuinely didn't remember what happened at that time,” Bompiani said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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