Missouri man accused of murdering sister-in-law and her boyfriend claims Scientology made him do it
Lawyers of Kenneth Wayne Thompson are attempting to pin his motives for the murders on their client's belief in Scientology to save him from the death penalty
A Missouri man currently on trial for the 2012 double murder of his sister-in-law and her boyfriend has attempted to shift the blame to his belief in Scientology.
In an attempt to avoid the death penalty for Kenneth Wayne Thompson, defense attorney Robert Gundacker asked the jury in his opening arguments to consider the accused's belief in the controversial religion when assessing the events.
According to Arizona Central, Thompson drove 1,400 miles and 25 hours from his rural Missouri home and reached the Prescott Valley, Arizona residence of his sister-in-law, Penelope Edwards, and her boyfriend, Troy Dunn, on the morning of March 16, 2012.
He proceeded to murder both using a hatchet and a knife he had purchased that morning. He then poured acid over their bodies and used flares and diesel fuel to set fire to the house in an attempt to destroy any evidence.
Edward's body was later found with 22 wounds to the head and neck, with forensic examination confirming that her jugular vein had been severed and that body had been chopped in certain places. Dunn had similarly suffered multiple head wounds "caused by something sharp."
A state trooper who saw Thompson driving suspiciously eastbound on the I-40 out of Arizona — he was reportedly "staring straight ahead with both arms locked out and gripping the steering wheel" — followed him and found an excuse to stop him and search his car. The trooper found a red gas can, a pair of bloodied pants, and a hatchet covered in both blood and what appeared to be human hair.
After being told that police officers and firemen had responded to a house fire in the area where two bodies were found hacked to death, and where neighbors had seen a white car fleeing the scene — Thompson was driving a white Ford Taurus — the trooper took Thompson into custody.
In their arguments, prosecutors said the 25-hour journey proved Thompson committed both murders with a degree of premeditation, an element of the first-degree murder conviction they are seeking and which, if proven beyond reasonable doubt, could see him get the death penalty.
Gundacker, who conceded the bare facts of the case, counterargued and told the jury they should see his devotion to complete the 1,400-mile trip stemming from his belief in Scientology.
He said they would view the murders as rational from Thompson's point-of-view if they viewed the events through the lens of Scientology.
The defense attorney revealed Thompson had become a Scientologist as a child following his mother's marriage to a devotee and that his client had traveled to the house of his sister-in-law to rescue his wife's nephew and niece, whose spiritual well-being he thought was at risk.
At that moment the nephew was at Phoenix Children’s Hospital being treated for behavioral issues.
Gundacker revealed that mental health treatment is a big no-no in the Scientology community, and his client believed it was his duty to rescue the child.
"One of the central tenets, and it was core to the whole wider system of beliefs, is that psychology is evil, probably the most evil thing on planet earth," he told the jury.
"(Scientologists) think psychology is evil and a scam. They believe psychology does not only not cure people, it causes mental illness. They think psychological medicines are central to this evil. They are part of the scam, and they are particularly bad when they are given to children."
Gundacker said his client would have believed the medication his nephew was receiving subjected him to "irreparable harm" and that he genuinely thought "the child's eternal soul was at risk."
He explained how his client and his wife had cared for the children while their mother was in prison and that they worried about their well-being once she was free once again.
Gregory Parzych, another of Thompson's attorneys, also highlighted his diminished mental capacity and said his client's belief in Scientology combined with his Asperger's syndrome made his thinking "concrete and linear."
They have asked the jury to convict Thompson on manslaughter charges and not first-degree murder.