Crime & Courts

Kansas son shoots his mother: Justifiable homicide or crime? Investigation continues

The first public sign of serious trouble at the Trimmell mansion comes around 10:36 p.m. Wednesday, June 20.

A high-pitched beep-beep-beep alert interrupts Sedgwick County emergency radio traffic. Immediately followed by a 911 dispatcher sending out the call, “Start for a shooting, 3235 N. 159th East,” the address of the Trimmell estate.

A dispatcher fills in officers who will swarm the scene: “(Trimmell’s oldest son) says mother attacked the brother, and she (SIC) shot her.” According to sheriff’s and autopsy records, Trimmell and her sons were the only people in the home.

Almost three months after Lisa Trimmell died, the unanswered question as the homicide investigation continues is: When one of her sons shot her, was it a justifiable killing, or was it a crime?

Was Trimmell a battering mom? An alcoholic who attacked her son?

Or was she a battered mom? A loving mother whose kids turned against her?

For almost four months before she died, she lived alone in a six-bedroom 8,500-square-foot home with a gourmet kitchen. The house, currently listed for sale for $1.95 million, sits behind a gated, winding driveway on 30.5 wooded acres in northeast Sedgwick County near Andover. There’s a 40-by-60 heated and detached garage, a tennis court, a fishing pond.

She lived alone there because her husband and sons had moved out.

The shooting occurred a little over a month after her husband filed for divorce. It happened on the one night she got to have her sons stay with her, every other week.

Sheri Love, a Wichita dentist and close friend of Trimmell, told The Eagle, “She couldn’t hurt anybody.”

Love described Trimmell as happy, intelligent, kind, “a mother above all else,” Christian, fun and “very down-to-earth, humble, simple, easy to love, just a true, truly good person.”

“I want to know how this happened and why it happened and how we can prevent this from (happening to) other families,” Love said. “I do appreciate that the detectives on this case have shared that their goal is to answer our questions.”

Under a recent Channel 12 story about Trimmell’s autopsy, a person posted on its Facebook page: “Why are there no charges? I have my suspicions, but this is all very sad.”

And under that comment, a person identifying herself as Brittany Hall — who has been identified as the girlfriend of Trimmell’s husband, posted: “There are no charges because she was drunk and beating on one of her sons.” Contacted Thursday about her comment, Hall wouldn’t elaborate. The post has since been deleted.

According to a Sedgwick County sheriff’s report, an autopsy report and a recording of emergency radio traffic obtained from, both Trimmell sons were at her home when one fired a handgun at his mother. One son is 14, the other 12.

On Thursday, Wichita defense attorney Dan Monnat confirmed that he represents one of the Trimmell family members but said he couldn’t say more because of the ongoing sheriff’s investigation.

Kurt Kerns, another Wichita defense lawyer, said he also represents one of the Trimmells but wouldn’t say more.

Lisa Trimmell, 41, was the estranged wife of a Wichita orthodontist, Justin Trimmell. Her friends say she ran the business side of the couple’s enterprises.

John Rapp, an attorney for Justin Trimmell, gave this statement Thursday: “The family continues to mourn the loss of Lisa. We respect the job the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office is doing and their understanding of this matter. However, because this is an ongoing investigation, we have no further comment at this time.”

The Sheriff’s Office said the shooting was suspicious but hasn’t said why. The office has provided only limited information about the death. There have been no arrests.

“It is an open investigation,” sheriff’s Lt. Tim Myers said Friday.

District Attorney Marc Bennett said Friday that the Sheriff’s Office has had regular contact with his office about the case, that investigators have yet to present their findings to prosecutors to decide whether charges will be filed.

What autopsy of Lisa Trimmell found

An Aug. 24 report on Trimmell’s autopsy concluded that her death was a homicide. A medium-caliber copper jacketed bullet entered the base of the side of her neck. The bullet veered down, severing her spine.

Emergency crews pronounced her dead 28 minutes after her 14-year-old son called 911 to report the shooting.

The autopsy report also lists 16 separate blunt-force injuries to Trimmell — from her scalp and forehead to her lower leg. What’s not clear is whether some injuries could have been caused when she collapsed or when someone tried to resuscitate her.

Among the autopsy findings: Trimmell had “acute and chronic alcoholism” and “hepatic cirrhosis” or scarring of the liver.

Her blood-alcohol level at the time of the autopsy was 0.185, or more than twice the legal limit for driving.

Her friends describe her as being physically frail and anemic. She was 5 feet 6 inches tall, 133 pounds. Her 14-year-old son was 5 feet tall, 100 pounds; her 12-year-old son, 4-foot-10, 85 pounds, the sheriff’s report says. Trimmell had been treated for anemia and “liver issues,” according to divorce papers. Her friends say that her sons, although smaller than their mother, are athletic.

The pending divorce

Six weeks before the shooting, Justin Trimmell filed a divorce petition against his wife. They had been married almost 18 years. The court document said the grounds for divorce were “incompatibility .… deep and irreconcilable conflict in their personalities or temperaments.” It called for joint custody of the boys.

On May 9, the day the divorce petition was filed, Justin Trimmell’s lawyer also filed a temporary parenting plan saying that his home would continue to be the primary residence for the sons, that their mother would continue to get 24 hours of parenting time every other week, from 5 p.m. Wednesday to 5 p.m. Thursday, plus other time that the parents could agree on.

Court papers say Justin Trimmell’s gross annual income was $399,404, that Lisa Trimmell’s was $96,000.

In response to his divorce petition, her lawyers said in a court document that if the divorce was granted, she should receive, among other things, “an equitable allocation of assets and debts.”

Collegiate School affected

The fallout from the shooting has affected at least one school community.

Seventh-grade parents at Wichita Collegiate School, an exclusive east-side private school, received an email from headmaster Tom Davis. The email began: “Many of you have been inquiring about (the younger Trimmell son). Although we are not able to share confidential information about a student, we wanted to inform you that (the younger son) will not be returning to Collegiate this coming year.”

The email then said that staff would be available on Aug. 8 at the middle school “if you or your child would like to talk through any emotions related to this tragic news. We would certainly like to start the new school year without any anxieties in our students lingering from this event.”

Asked about his email, Davis said Thursday that he couldn’t comment.

Lisa Trimmell’s life

According to her obituary, Lisa Marie (Fromme) Trimmell was born in Minnesota, attended grade school there and moved to Springfield, Mo., as a young teen. She received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Baylor University in 1999. She and Justin Trimmell moved to Wichita in 2004.

She was a stay-at-home mom for a few years after her sons were born. Later, she worked as accounting and human resources manager for the Trimmell and Anders orthodontic offices and was involved in a financial role in a number of businesses, the obituary said. According to the court papers filed by her husband’s divorce attorney, she was employed by Serenity Massage Clinic.

“Her passion in life was her two boys and she spent countless hours each day coordinating whatever the family needed,” the obituary said. “Lisa was a happy person and always had a smile on her face even during challenging times.”

At the funeral service, her friend Love gave the eulogy for Trimmell. At one point, Love looked out at her friend’s sons and told them their mother loved them.

Friend’s perspective

Jenifer Cook, a Wichita-based physician, said she and Trimmell first became acquainted a dozen years ago. But they had developed a deep friendship since January.

Speaking of how her friend died, Cook said, “It is so strange. It doesn’t happen in Wichita, Kansas.

“I don’t know how any child could kill their mother ... she was a loving, devoted mother. Every day that I talked to Lisa, she talked about her kids, about what kind of dinner she would make for them when they would come over, what kind of summer camp they would be interested in, and whether or not they would allow her to attend their baseball game or school activity.

”As a mother, I have extreme compassion towards these boys, because their mother is not there to go through the steps of life with them. And no one on this Earth loved them as much as Lisa.”

She described her friend as a multimillionaire professional woman with flexible hours who kept her business life to herself. She worked from home a lot with spreadsheets. She worked on taxes, payroll, human resources and job applicants. She ordered supplies for the spa.

She went out in a plain T-shirt, leggings and flip-flops.

The two women’s friendship grew through a Bible-study group, movies, lunches and Wednesday-morning walks.

“I was amazed at how she was handling the divorce,” Cook said. “As a physician, I couldn’t help but watch her for signs of depression … because so many things were happening to her at once.”

Trimmell was talking about starting a new business. She was replacing her worn-out minivan with a new Acura MDX. She died the night before she was to pick up the luxury SUV. She had made sure that her sons’ sporting equipment would fit in the Acura.

Cook dismisses the allegation that Trimmell was abusive or violent.

“Lisa was the same person. There’s not crazy talk in her texts, there’s no cuss words … anger.”

Cook last texted Trimmell at 8:03 p.m. June 20, two and a half hours before the fatal shot.

To Cook, it comes down to this: “The accusations made against her don’t make sense.”