Shenandoah, PA

HATRED IN HIS HEART: Ex-boyfriend convicted, sentenced in ‘brutal’ 2020 ambush, stabbing

The Shenandoah (PA) Sentinel

POTTSVILLE – “Thank you, Lord,” a member of April Mahmod’s family said as Judge James P. Goodman rendered his verdict Friday, ending the four-day trial of Nathaniel Kimmel.

The 25-year-old Kimmel, of Girardville, was found guilty of first degree murder and all related crimes in the August 2020 ambush killing of Mahmod, his ex-girlfriend, in Shenandoah.

Kimmel waived his right to a jury trial, instead facing a bench trial, in which his fate would be determined by a judge instead.

“April Mahmod’s will to live far exceeded Nathaniel Kimmel’s will to kill,” District Attorney Michael O’Pake said in his closing arguments. “She fought back with strength she probably didn’t know she had.”

It was that strength, that will to live, the DA said, that thwarted Kimmel’s plan in the morning hours of August 30, 2020.

O’Pake contended that Kimmel planned to ambush Mahmod inside her home at 106 South Catherine Street, kill her there, and torch the house, potentially delaying the discovery of the homicide-by-stabbing for weeks or months. Kimmel, the DA said, had water bottles of gasoline in the bathroom sink ready to go.

Instead, Mahmod escaped outside and fled to the neighbor’s house at 104 South Catherine, pursued by Kimmel who continued to stab her a total of 61 times.

The commotion alerted a neighbor, Joseph Rosselli, who looked outside and saw the end of the altercation, getting a description of the assailant and pursuing him to Oak Street.

Mahmod’s “will to survive enabled the investigation to commence,” O’Pake said, providing them with a timeline, which allowed them to place Kimmel and his pickup truck in Shenandoah at the time, which was seen leaving Boyer’s Food Markets, a block away from the scene, within a few minutes of the assailant’s flight.

“He had hatred in his heart,” O’Pake said of Kimmel. “He believed he had a perfect plan.”
KAYLEE LINDENMUTH / SHENANDOAH SENTINEL FILE – State Police and local police at the scene of a homicide on South Catherine Street in Shenandoah on August 30, 2020.

O’Pake said of the 61 stab wounds, seven were determined to be potentially fatal by an autopsy and, according to Rosselli’s testimony, she was still breathing when Kimmel fled.

“She felt every single one of those 61 stab wounds,” O’Pake said.

Kimmel was taken into custody later that day and interviewed by State Police. He said he was hunting in Centralia at the time and adamantly denied being in Shenandoah.

While in custody, his story continued to shift and he wrote letters home, O’Pake said.

Letters containing “Crazy stuff. It’s off the wall,” O’Pake said of the letters, asking his family to corroborate his alibi or dispose of certain items, and even writing a cursive letter pinning the murder on someone else.

Kimmel was then found in possession of a letter supposedly signed by his next-door cellmate, but with his last name misspelled, pinning the murder on the fellow prisoner.

That letter, O’Pake said, contained details “only the killer would know,” including details yet to be discovered by State Police investigators.

Final day of testimony

Friday’s proceedings wrapped up the prosecution’s case, with the defense cross-examining lead investigator Trooper Shawn Tray and the prosecution offering testimony from PSP DNA Scientist Jessica Skliner.

Robert Kirwan II, Kimmel’s defense attorney, questioned Tray on why the eyewitness account from a now-deceased neighbor, which he said establishes a second suspect in the crime. He also questioned why fingerprints were not taken at the scene.

Skliner testified that DNA testing presumably connected Kimmel to various items found at the house, at a burn pit near Ashland believed to have been used to burn clothes soiled in the crime, and Mahmod herself, as well as finding Mahmod’s DNA at the burn pit and in Kimmel’s truck.

Kirwan used a trio of typographical errors which did not alter the DNA report but were corrected in a re-issued report by Skliner as evidence that DNA is not foolproof or failsafe.

At midday, the prosecution rested their case and the defense opted not to enter any additional evidence, immediately resting their case.

Defense points to ‘second suspect’

In his closing arguments, Kirwan reminded the court that reasonable doubt, burden of proof, and the presumption of innocence are key in a criminal trial.

He said the state’s evidence didn’t prove Kimmel guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, citing the existence of a potential second suspect who was not questioned or located, despite being identified by name by a witness.

Kirwan said he disappeared.

“Who does that? A person whose guilty of homicide does that,” Kirwan said.

Though, despite his argument, the alternate suspect Kirwan offered was cited by Shenandoah Borough Police for a traffic infraction two weeks ago and has appeared before Magisterial District Judge Anthony Kilker multiple times in the years he’s said to be in hiding.

Kirwan also cited DNA evidence as being weaker than fingerprint evidence, which “nobody checked for.”

“If [DNA is] all they have, they have nothing,” Kirwan said of the prosecution.

Kirwan also called the letters to home “ridiculous,” citing them as the product of a young man with his back against the wall “making all the wrong choices.”

He also made personal attacks against Kimmel’s former cellmate, Glen Ashton, calling him a “dirtbag” with no goal but to flame the room for personal gain.

Ashton testified Thursday that he aided Kimmel in drafting letters and eventually became a confidant of the defendant’s. He told the court that Kimmel said his “biggest disappointment is that he didn’t get to hear [Mahmod’s] last breath.” That testimony prompted an emotional reaction from Mahmod’s father directed at Kimmel.

Verdict handed down

Closing arguments immediately moved into the verdict stage, as with a bench trial, there is no need for lengthy deliberation.

Before rendering his verdict, Goodman said the case showed “brutal evidence of 61 stab wounds,” and he examined the prerequisites for a first degree murder charge.

He addressed Kirwan’s assertion that there were two suspects. Kirwan’s assertion was based on the reliability of Rosselli’s testimony and the drastic difference in clothing descriptions between his and the deceased neighbor’s testimony.

Goodman said Rosselli experienced the incident in a short time and also misidentified the attack as punches, not stabs.

He also said video evidence placed Kimmel arriving at the scene, leaving the scene, and heading to the burn pit, saying it was clearly Kimmel’s truck shown on video, citing an aftermarket utility box.

Goodman said the evidence was “very strong” in the case, including the DNA evidence, of which he said Kimmel’s was found on Mahmod and at the scene.

He also addressed the letters Kimmel drafted, which he said “might as well say ‘Mom, I killed April'” here’s how to cover for me, and that only the killer would have information contained in them.

Regarding the clothing discrepancy, Goodman said of the burn pile, “we don’t know what was in the pile, we know what was left.”

Goodman rendered a guilty verdict for first degree murder, aggravated assault, burglary, criminal trespass, possession of instruments of a crime, simple assault, and reckless endangerment.

“He’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Goodman said, noting the law gives him no discretion in sentencing, mandating a life sentence.

Family calls out ‘cowardice,’ lack of remorse, offers prayer

With the mandated sentence, the sentencing hearing came after a half-hour break.

Kimmel, typically stoic during the trial, sat with a bowed head during the hearing, while the majority of his supporters left the courthouse.

Goodman called the actions senseless and said Kimmel’s letterwriting highlighted the callousness of those actions.

Members of the Mahmod family had the opportunity to address the court, and Kimmel, during the hearing as well.

John Mahmod, April’s father, first apologized to the court and thanked God, his family, “prayer warriors,” the state police, and God.

Regarding Kimmel, Mahmod said “I cannot believe someone could be so evil.”

“You are a coward,” Mahmod said. “But you know what? I don’t hate you. I hate what you did.”

He said that Kimmel’s actions didn’t just hurt the Mahmod family, but the Kimmel family also, and said Kimmel has no remorse for anything he’s done.

John Mahmod said he would pray for Kimmel.

“Even though your flesh has to rot, your soul can be saved,” the paternal Mahmod said. “If anyone can break through that evil, it’s only God.”

April’s 11-year-old daughter, Jordan, also addressed Kimmel and the court, thanking the court “for giving me closure, knowing my mother’s killer is going to prison.”

“When I get to heaven, I’m going to see her again,” Jordan Mahmod said, saying she’s had to accept that she will no longer have a mother.

Carol Mahmod, April’s mother, urged Kimmel to “admit what you did, accept responsibility.”

“I don’t think you care who you hurt,” the maternal Mahmod said.

She asked Kimmel to pray with her, and he shook his head no.

“You always got away with what you did,” Carol Mahmod said.

Debra Kessler, April’s aunt, asked Kimmel how he could sit there with no remorse.

She added that she felt empathy for his family until she found out about the letters and their failure to turn them over.

April’s brother John also warned Kimmel that state prisoners won’t appreciate the nature of his offense.

DA reflects on long road to justice

“This has been a long road,” O’Pake said. “The victim’s family has been going through a lot for over three years now.”

O’Pake said the state is satisfied with the verdict.

“This is one of the more heinous acts that I’ve ever seen as a prosecutor and I’ve been doing this since 1992,” O’Pake said. “This is a guy that showed no remorse. He still denies that anything happened, the judge felt otherwise.”

“The justice system played its part and he’s going to be serving the rest of his life in prison which is what he deserves,” O’Pake said.

At one point, the prosecution intended to seek the death penalty, but O’Pake said, after consultation with the family and the current state of the death penalty in Pennsylvania, with no executions since 1999, they decided to drop that pursuit.

O’Pake expressed appreciation for the police work and his staff in helping the case.

Kimmel can still appeal the verdict.

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