By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Ask anyone at the Bell County Justice Complex about Mark Kimball and you're likely to get a strong response.
Since he returned to the prosecutor's position at the District Attorney's Office in 1993, Kimball has been one of the long-established characters in the courthouse.
And you could see it in the people around him.
Whether out front of the courthouse puffing on a cigarette or poking at the clients of defense attorneys as they walked through the courthouse corridors, no chat with Kimball could ever be called dull.
After a long career in public service with the District Attorney's office and formerly the county attorney's office, Kimball decided to call it a career in 2007 and will be retiring due to health reasons. Though Dec. 18 marked his last day as an employee, his friends and colleagues inside the DA's office are preparing a humorous reception for Kimball after the first of the year, something to befit the man who can always make people laugh.
Assistant District Attorney Nelson Barnes tried many cases alongside Kimball in their 13 years working together.
"We always clicked," Barnes said. "Mark always had that tenaciousness to take a case and make something out of it even if others said there wasn't anything there. That's the lasting memory I'll have of Mark; he could always make something out of very little."
Nelson said Kimball's audacious manner can, at times, be quite sobering. But his motives always rise from a good place.
"We were trying a murder case, and I was cross-examining a witness, and I had a tactic I wanted to use, and Mark told me 'Shut up, it's going wrong! It's going all wrong!'" Barnes recalled, imitating a seemingly obnoxious Kimball barking at him in open court. "Oh yeah, he's leaning over the table saying 'Stop it! He knows what you're doing!' I looked back and told him 'Shut up Mark!'"
Barnes said that situation, which he remembers quite fondly, like so many of their ventures together, resulted in a happy ending for the tandem as they got the witness to admit his prior testimony wasn't entirely accurate.
Nelson said Kimball's humor is part of what makes him good at his job because he can relate to people with uncommon backgrounds.
"Mark really cares about the idea of justice," Barnes said. "Mark puts on a hard-driving shell, but inside, Mark really cares about what we do. When you talk about true believers in the prosecution system, in what we do, and how we do it, Mark is right at the top of that list, and always will be. Our system, for any flaws it has, is the best. But it had to be worked. And Mark was one who worked the system to make things better. Out of everything, that's what I'll remember most about Mark."
Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Newell said there's just no one quite like Mark Kimball.
"He is a character; I knew that when I first watched him in court," Newell said. "When he questions defendants, it's my favorite thing in the whole world."
One of Kimball's well-known tactics involved testing defendants on probation for substance abuse about the 12-step program. They'll get up on the stand and ask for a second chance, Newell said. They're on probation, they have a problem, but they're in Alcoholics Anonymous, and they're making progress."
"He knew the steps. 'Oh you're in AA, 'What step are you on?'" Newell said, imitating Kimball in court. "Every day is a joy with Kimball."
Administrative Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Depew said Kimball, whom she casually calls "Kimball-san" has always been a source of color and humor since she joined the Disrict Attorney's office in 1993, shortly after Kimball. She said the real character of Kimball comes not just from what he says, but how he says it.
"He has a way of putting things like no other human being that I know," Depew said. "You never have to wonder where you stand with Mark. He's a man of his word; his integrity is something everybody should strive for. He doesn't try to hide it. How he's done it for this many years and kept his sanity is just amazing. He'll tell you he's 27. Every year, on his birthday, he turns 27. So he's 27, and I'm sticking with that."
One of Kimball's favorite practical jokes he loved to play on office newbies, Depew said, was to convince them that elephants on a train from India were loose and headed to Bell County.
"He was great at disguising his voice," Depew said. "When new people came into the office, he'd call them up and say there were elephants on a train, and somebody forgot to pick up the elephants. 'What are you going to do about the elephants?' He'd get witness coordinators and attorneys involved, and there were all these people trying to figure out what they were going to do about the elephants. They were convinced a herd of elephants was about to invade Bell County."
Barnes said Kimball's most effective skill in arguing a case was not his use of legal manuals and rules of procedure, it was his ability to focus a complicated scenario down to its basic elements and communicate a simple, clear message to a jury.
"Mark's always been brilliant in taking a case down right where it needs to be for a jury," Barnes said. "He can take a case and tell you exactly what it's about. He can relate to people. That just comes from being great at what he does. He's just a great trial lawyer, and always will be."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568