State v. Thompson

Decision Date19 January 2022
Docket NumberCR-19-0141-AP
Parties STATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Kenneth Wayne THOMPSON, II, Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, Brunn (Beau) Roysden III, Solicitor General, Jeffrey L. Sparks, Capital Litigation Section Chief, David E. Ahl (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for State of Arizona

Stephen L. Duncan (argued), Law Offices of Stephen L. Duncan, P.L.C., Scottsdale, Attorney for Kenneth Wayne Thompson, II

VICE CHIEF JUSTICE TIMMER authored the opinion of the Court, in which JUSTICES BOLICK, LOPEZ, BEENE, MONTGOMERY, KING, and PELANDER (Ret.) joined.*

VICE CHIEF JUSTICE TIMMER, opinion of the Court:

¶1 Kenneth Wayne Thompson was sentenced to death after a jury found him guilty of multiple counts of first degree murder for the 2012 murders of Penelope Edwards and Troy Dunn in Prescott Valley. We have jurisdiction over this automatic appeal under article 6, section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. §§ 13-4031 and -4033(A).1 We affirm Thompson's convictions and sentences.2


¶2 The double murder here is rooted in a twisted family tale. Edwards was Thompson's sister-in-law and Dunn was Edwards’ fiancé. Thompson was married to Edwards’ sister, Gloria, and they lived in Missouri. Gloria previously had custody of Edwards’ two children ("Daughter" and "Son") from 2004 to 2008 after Edwards failed to report Son's father for molesting Daughter.

¶3 Gloria stayed in contact with Daughter through text messages and emails after the children were returned to Edwards’ care in 2008. On March 11, 2012, Gloria became upset and angry after learning Daughter planned a trip that placed her at risk of engaging in sexual contact with an adult, and that Son had been committed to the psychiatric department at a children's hospital after a physical altercation with Edwards. She spoke to Thompson about her frustration and considered hiring a lawyer to explore the possibility of having the children placed with her again in Missouri.

¶4 Two days later, Thompson deposited an insurance check into his bank account, reserving $10,000 in cash. Later that day, he activated a prepaid "TracFone," although he already owned a cell phone subscribed to a Verizon plan. He did not provide the TracFone servicer with his personal information when requested. Thompson used the TracFone to arrange to purchase a handgun from an individual, whom he met at a gas station later that day to complete the transaction.

¶5 The next evening, Thompson left his home in Missouri, telling Gloria he would be in Tennessee for a few days to conduct personal business. Instead, he headed for Prescott Valley in his car. He took the TracFone and made various calls with it, but he did not take his personal cell phone, and he did not communicate with Gloria during his drive.

¶6 Thompson purchased a GPS unit in New Mexico and used it to navigate to Arizona, arriving in Prescott Valley late on March 15, where he checked into a motel. Early the next morning, he took a taxi to a Walmart. While the driver waited, Thompson purchased a change of clothes, a camping axe, and a knife with a sheath that could be threaded onto a belt.

¶7 After making other stops, the taxi took Thompson to the victims’ home around 7:00 a.m. While en route, Thompson told the driver he intended to visit "his sister" and that he didn't get along with "her husband" very well. After expressing surprise that the husband's car was parked outside the home, Thompson asked the driver to wait in case it was a short visit. About five minutes later, Thompson returned and told the driver everything was fine, and he could leave.

¶8 At 9:40 a.m., the same taxi driver picked Thompson up at the victims’ residence and dropped him off at his motel. Thompson checked out and drove to two stores, where he bought drain acid, a watering can, bath towels, and a new shirt. During this time, Thompson used Dunn's cell phone to make calls.

¶9 Thompson returned to the victims’ home around 10:30 a.m. and left again ten minutes later. After making several stops to purchase gas cans, diesel fuel, and flares, Thompson used these items to set fire to the victims’ home.

¶10 After the fire was extinguished, investigators found the victims’ bodies. Dunn, who was found inside the home, had been dead for several hours and had significant head trauma

, including skull fractures caused by "chop" type wounds. A trail of blood led from inside the house to the side of the home, where Edwards’ body was found partially covered by a blanket. She had injuries on her head, arms, and torso, likely caused by "an axe or smaller axe, something like a hatchet," according to the medical examiner. Both bodies had chemical burns caused by an acid-based drain cleaner. Edwards had defensive wounds, but Dunn did not. Investigators found a hatchet lying on Edwards’ torso and a knife near Dunn's body. The knife was the same type as the one purchased by Thompson before he went to the victims’ home.

¶11 Around 4:00 p.m., state trooper Matthew Bratz stopped Thompson's car traveling east on Interstate 40 near Flagstaff after Thompson failed to slow down or change lanes for a stopped emergency vehicle in violation of Arizona law. During the stop, Bratz noticed Thompson seemed "very nervous" as "[h]e had a very rapid and heavy rise and fall of his chest" and "his hand shook pretty grossly as he provided his driver's license, registration, [and] insurance." Thompson was also "argumentative about exiting the vehicle and rolling the window down." Bratz ultimately issued Thompson a warning and told Thompson the traffic stop was over.

¶12 As Thompson turned back toward his car, Bratz asked if he could ask additional questions, and Thompson consented. Thompson refused Bratz's request to search the car, but he agreed to permit Bratz to run his drug-detector dog around the car's outside. The dog alerted near the trunk.

¶13 Before Bratz searched the car, Thompson asked repeatedly to retrieve a water bottle from his backpack. Bratz retrieved the backpack and opened it. He did not find a water bottle but instead found a gun and a hatchet covered in bright red blood and what appeared to be a long human hair stuck to the blade. A complete search of the car later yielded blood-stained clothing; road flares; two gas cans; a watering can with acid residue dripping from the spout; two cell phones (the TracFone and Dunn's cell phone); a belt with an empty knife sheath threaded onto it; and various bags, packaging, and receipts for the items purchased at stores in Prescott Valley. Thompson's wallet contained over $3400, mostly in $100 bills. The hatchet found in Thompson's backpack was later determined to be the same type as the one he purchased at Walmart on the morning of the murders. Bratz contacted dispatch to determine if there had been a homicide in the area and was informed of the murders and house fire in Prescott Valley.

¶14 After Thompson was arrested, Prescott Valley Police detectives Matt Hepperle and Ed Bills interviewed him. Thompson explained he had traveled to Prescott Valley to convince Edwards to let him take Son back to Missouri with him for the summer as an anniversary surprise for Gloria. Upon arriving at the victims’ home, he heard screaming coming from inside and ran in to discover Dunn attacking Edwards with a hatchet. After Dunn dropped the hatchet and started attacking Edwards with a knife, Thompson picked up the hatchet and killed Dunn with it. According to Thompson, Edwards ran out the back door, he followed and saw her collapse and die.

¶15 The detectives pointed out holes in Thompson's story, including the implausibility of Edwards being able to run outside after being injured, but Thompson did not admit to killing Edwards. He acknowledged he had placed the knife and hatchet on the victims to "save you guys a step." Thompson said he panicked after the killings and sought to erase evidence of his DNA at the scene because he was a felon and did not think the police would believe his story. He admitted pouring drain cleaner on the bodies and, when the acid failed to adequately destroy the evidence, using diesel fuel and flares to set fire to the house.

¶16 The State indicted Thompson on twelve counts, including premeditated first degree murder (counts 1–2) and felony murder predicated on burglary (counts 3–4). The State later gave notice of its intent to seek the death penalty, listing seven aggravators pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-751(F).4 After a Chronis5 hearing, the trial court found probable cause for all aggravators.

¶17 After a ten-day trial, the jury found Thompson guilty of the first degree murders of Dunn and Edwards under both premeditated and felony murder theories (counts 1–4). The jury also found Thompson guilty of burglary in the first degree and arson of an occupied structure (counts 7–8), both of which the jury found to be dangerous offenses. And the jury found Thompson guilty of criminal damage ($10,000 or more) and tampering with physical evidence (counts 9 and 12). The trial court entered a judgment of acquittal on felony murder counts based on arson (counts 5–6) and granted the State's motion to dismiss weapons misconduct charges (counts 10–11).

¶18 At the end of the aggravation phase, the jury found five aggravating circumstances with regard to Edwards: (1) Thompson was previously convicted of a serious offense, whether preparatory or completed (F)(2); (2) Thompson committed the offense in an especially cruel, heinous, or depraved manner (F)(6); (3) Thompson committed first degree murder, burglary, arson, criminal damage, and tampering with physical evidence while on probation for a felony offense (F)(7); (4) Thompson was convicted of one or more other homicides, and those homicides were committed during the commission of the offense (F)(8); and (5) the offense was committed in a cold, calculated manner without pretense of moral or...

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2 cases
  • State v. Allen
    • United States
    • Arizona Supreme Court
    • July 26, 2022
    ...guarantees a defendant the right to a fair trial by a panel of impartial jurors. See State v. Thompson , 252 Ariz. 279, 294 ¶ 48, 502 P.3d 437, 452 (2022). A court may strike a juror for cause if his views would "prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in ac......
  • State v. Teran
    • United States
    • Arizona Court of Appeals
    • April 19, 2022
    ...also requested a pretrial evidentiary hearing to challenge the reliability of the toxicologist's opinions. See State v. Thompson , 252 Ariz. 279, 502 P.3d 437, 454 (2022) (discussing the factors for determining the admissibility of a qualified expert's opinion under Ariz. R. Evid. 702 ); se......

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