Nearly seven years after the bodies of a man and woman were found in a burned out Prescott Valley home, Kenneth Wayne Thompson II went on trial Wednesday, Jan. 30, for two counts of first-degree murder in their deaths.
Thompson, 35, faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Judge Patricia Trebesch is presiding over the jury trial in Yavapai County Superior Court.
Penelope Edwards, 35, and Troy Dunn, 38, were found dead on March 16, 2012, in a fire-damaged home in the 4000 block of North Tonopah Drive. Edwards was Thompson’s sister-in-law, and Dunn was her fiancé.
Autopsy reports showed the victims had each sustained head trauma, as well as chop and sharp-force wounds. Both also had post-mortem chemical burns.
Thompson, who is from Missouri, was stopped in his white sedan for a traffic violation at about 3:30 p.m. that day on Interstate 40 outside of Flagstaff. During the stop, a K9 was used and alerted to something in the vehicle. Deputies used this as cause to search the car and eventually found a hatchet covered with what appeared to be blood and human hair. They also found clothing with apparent blood stains, road flares and several receipts from the Prescott Valley area for purchases of several suspicious items earlier in the day.
Arizona Department of Public Safety K-9 deputy Matt Bratz conducted the traffic stop. He testified in court on Wednesday that Thompson initially claimed he had driven from Phoenix, where he had been spending time with a friend at a wild animal park. The receipts found in Thompson’s car indicated otherwise, Bratz said.
“Due to the Prescott Valley receipts I found, which placed him in a different location than he originally conveyed to me, that’s why I reached out to area agencies in Prescott,” he said.
Further investigation found that a taxi had dropped off Thompson at the North Tonopah Drive home around 7 a.m. that day. The same taxi driver then picked him up from the home at about 9:40 a.m.
Surveillance evidence and receipts revealed that Thomas purchased acid from Ace Hardware at 10:07 a.m.; towels, a shirt and a watering can from Kmart at 10:21 a.m.; gas cans from Home Depot at 11:54 a.m.; flares from Napa Auto Parts at 12:17 p.m.; and diesel fuel from Texaco at 12:45 a.m.
A GPS unit recovered from his car also showed that he had been at the home from 10:36 to 10:46 a.m. and 1:17 to 1:31 p.m.
Police and fire units had responded to reports of the home on fire around 1:30 p.m.
Thompson eventually was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, arson of an occupied structure, criminal damage and tampering with physical evi dence.
For Thompson to be found guilty of first-degree murder, the prosecution led by Steven Young with the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office has to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the killings were both willful and premeditated, meaning they were committed after planning or “lying in wait” for the victim.
Thompson’s defense attorneys, who include Gregory Parzych, Robert Gundacker and Mathew Cochran, will try to convince the jury this was not the case.