"Do You Want to Know the Truth?" 

Ken Allen's killers left him hog-tied on the floor. When prosecutors called it an accident, his daughter fought back

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click to enlarge After Ken Allen's death, police arrested (from left) Blake Schindler, Timothy Wonish and Whitney Robins. In October, Wonish and Robins pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. - FRANKLIN COUNTY'S SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • FRANKLIN COUNTY'S SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • After Ken Allen's death, police arrested (from left) Blake Schindler, Timothy Wonish and Whitney Robins. In October, Wonish and Robins pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

More than a year later, Kallen stands beneath the shadow of the Franklin County courthouse in downtown Union, a poster-sized photo of Ken raised in the air. In the image, the soft, golden light from a desk lamp in the background forms a kind of halo above his head. He's smiling, a drink in one hand, the other presenting a copy of the Dalai Lama's 1998 book, The Art of Happiness.

Kallen wears a T-shirt with the words "Justice For Ken" printed on the front. On the reverse side it reads, "Evil prevails when good people do nothing." Around twenty protesters are scattered around the sidewalk, some carrying signs of their own. One reads "Ken Allen Was Murdered."

This is the third anti-Parks demonstration Kallen and the protesters have staged at the courthouse. The demonstrations coincided with Kallen's nearly year-long attempt to have Parks removed from the case, but that option ran its course. Although Kallen's petition to boot Parks attracted additional local media coverage and forced multiple delays in the criminal case, it was ultimately rejected.

Now, after months of flights between California and Missouri, Kallen prepares to witness Parks' third attempt at closing a plea deal — a deal allowing Wonish and Robins to plead guilty to a single count of involuntary manslaughter.

Today is only the second time Kallen has faced Wonish and Robins in person, and the first time seeing Schindler, who is already seated in the courtroom when Kallen arrives. Now nineteen, Schindler wears a crisp gray suit over a blue dress shirt and striped tie. Kallen takes a seat and grasps the binder containing a victim impact statement, its words the product of a week's worth of sleepless nights.

Somewhere nearby, Timothy Wonish and Whitney Robins are waiting in holding cells. In 2017, they were allowed to marry in jail.

Parks' office offered Wonish and Robins their first deal in September 2017 — a chance to plead guilty to burglary and involuntary manslaughter. (Schindler, already out on bail, declined to negotiate with the prosecutor's office.) Under its terms, Wonish and Robins would have faced a maximum of ten years in prison, but there was no mandated minimum sentence. They could qualify for parole after serving just 30 percent of their sentences.

In that first plea hearing, Kallen had taken the stand to blast the prosecutor both for presenting the cause of death as an accident and to reject his claim that Ken was a sexual abuser. Kallen's dad was gay, they revealed to the court, and even if Parks couldn't tell the difference, that didn't make Ken a pedophile.

Kallen's passion didn't go unheeded. One month later, Circuit Court Judge Gael Wood shocked the court's attendees by rejecting the plea deal offered to Wonish and Robins.

"The court finds them too lenient," the judge said. "I'm not going to accept them."

But Wood subsequently retired, and in January 2018, the case was assigned a new judge. Parks presented a brand-new plea deal to the defendants. To Kallen's horror, it was even softer than the first.

At the January hearing, Wonish and Robins were given the option to plead guilty to receiving stolen property and involuntary manslaughter, a sentence that would give them just seven years in prison. Under the deal, they'd serve the two charges concurrently, and with time served, each would technically be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of their sentence. That meant they could be eligible for parole as early as 2019.

But like his predecessor had done months before for the previous deal, Circuit Court Judge Craig Hellman rejected this one, too, calling it "too lenient."

On October 23, the prosecutor is trying again with a third judge. Once again, Wonish and Robins are facing what Kallen calls "a sweetheart deal": a single charge of involuntary manslaughter. The seven-year sentences would again make them eligible for parole in a matter of months.

But first up is Blake Schindler. Taking the stand to address Judge Michael Wright, Schindler pleads not guilty.

Despite objections from prosecutors and Kallen, Judge Wright allows Schindler to remain free on house arrest. He even grants the teen permission to leave home two hours per day to seek employment, though Schindler must continue to wear a GPS bracelet.

Next up is Wonish. Led through a side door in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit, the 32-year-old has grown a long beard since his stubbly 2016 mugshot. Even though Wonish is facing the most favorable plea deal yet, he still has to convince the judge that he's ready to accept guilt.

"What did you do?" Wright asks Wonish. The shackled man responds that he can't exactly remember the day or incident in question.

Wright grumbles and tries again, staring down at Wonish. "Tell me what you did."

Wonish mumbles into the microphone. "I tied up Mr. Allen and left him in the house," he says. "He was deceased." Then Wonish attempts to elaborate, adding that it was just him and Robins at Ken's house, no one else.

At this comment, Wright perks up, since Wonish appears to be attempting to exonerate Schindler, the younger co-defendant sitting directly behind him.

"Oh," the judge says, a bemused note in his voice. "Now you remember."

Under further questioning, Wonish claims that he "had been up for a few days" before November 3, and that he only remembers leaving Ken's house to get more drugs. He testifies several times that no one else was in the house except for himself and Robins.

Wright tries again to pry something more specific from Wonish. All he gets are single-word answers.

"So, you recklessly caused the suffocation of Ken Allen?" Yes.

"So you left him on the floor, tied him up and he suffocated?" Yes.

"Did you grab Mr. Allen around the neck?" No.

The judge calls on Parks, and the prosecutor says that the state can prove that Ken was "strangled from behind," and that the defendants "bound his hands and feet after a struggle and left him for dead in the house." This time, Parks makes no mention of the theory that someone sat on Ken's back or that the suffocation was purely accidental.

Then it is Kallen's turn to read their victim impact statement contained in the binder.

"The only time I see my dad now is in my nightmares," Kallen says, addressing Wonish and Schindler directly. "Did you guys burst the door and rush him? How much terror did you put him in? Your evil faces are the last thing he saw on Earth."

It is not just Ken's killers in Kallen's crosshairs.

"Mr. Parks," Kallen says at one point, turning to the seated prosecutor. "Were you relieved after my dad was murdered?"

At this comment, the air seems to retreat from the room. Parks coughs and rises to object. "This is not an impact statement!" he complains to the judge. "This is a vendetta against my office."

The judge asks Kallen to stick to the bounds of a victim impact statement, but after a pause the statement continues on track — with a fusillade against Parks. Kallen raises various examples of the prosecutor's failings — and suggests he lied about Ken being a pedophile.

"Mr. Parks," Kallen says, staring directly at the prosecutor, "you intentionally tried to mislead this court and mislead me, to make me compliant, and to shut me up so you could benefit these three defendants in their plea."

Kallen adds, "You misjudged me, Bob Parks. I am Ken Allen's daughter."

The court is silent as Kallen leaves the stand.

Next comes Whitney Robins, her hair long and blonde, her jumpsuit matching her husband's. Robins' guilty plea, while halting and interrupted by regular pauses, is far more specific.

"I recklessly caused the death of Ken Allen ... by suffocation," she tells the court. "I tied his feet up ... with a cord. I only have memory flashes. I remember Timothy Wonish helping me tie his feet up."

Like Wonish, Robins attempts to adjust her statement — she tells the judge that only she and Wonish committed the crime. That's even though she's already on the record saying that her half-brother, Schindler, was at the scene as well.

Judge Wright asks if she is trying to protect her brother. "No. I'm aware of what I said," Robins tells the judge. She claims she can't remember making the statement to police. "That's a blank spot in my head."

In her flashes of memory, what she does remember are scenes of Ken kicking his bare feet and she and Wonish tying him in up with a telephone cord, she says. Then the memories skip to the hospital where she was transported after the arresting officers realized she was suffering an overdose. Under the judge's grilling, Robins repeatedly insists she doesn't know how or why Ken suffocated. Maybe, she theorizes at one point, she climbed on top of Ken for leverage while tying his feet together — or maybe that was Wonish, or even someone else she can't remember. She repeats, "I'm sorry, all I have are flashes of memory."

In the end, Judge Wright relents. He accepts both guilty pleas, adding the maximum possible fine, $5,000, to go along with their single felony charges for involuntary manslaughter.

Kallen moves toward the aisle to leave but shouts two words, loud enough for the room to hear: "Evil prevails."

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March 25, 2020

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