The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

August 10, 2013

Willoughby Hills man charged with plotting wife’s murder

WILLOUGHBY HILLS — A man was indicted Friday on charges that he plotted to kill his wife with his teenage foster daughter, with whom he allegedly was romantically involved.

Kevin Knoefel, 43, of Willoughby Hills was indicted by a Lake County grand jury on counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and complicity to aggravated murder. His wife, 41-year-old Lisa Knoefel, was found stabbed to death in their home in November.

Their foster daughter, Sabrina Zunich, 18, was arrested the night of the slaying and is in jail awaiting trial on a murder charge.

Police in Willoughby Hills, east of Cleveland, got a 911 call before dawn Nov. 16 from a 13-year-old girl screaming that her sister had a knife and was attacking her mother. Police say they found Zunich in the house covered with blood and holding a knife. Her foster mother was found in a first-floor bedroom with fatal stab wounds. Lisa Knoefel had worked at the Division of Children and Family Services in Cuyahoga County.

Knoefel was arrested Friday by local police and faces arraignment Monday.

He also was charged with six counts of sexual battery stemming from his role as a foster father — three counts stemming from before Zunich turned 18 on Oct. 27 and three counts from after her birthday. Court records didn’t identify an attorney for him. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

According to the indictment, Knoefel and Zunich discussed different ways to kill Lisa Knoefel while she slept. Knoefel suggested Zunich stab his wife between the shoulder blades or around the neck, the indictment says, and told the teenager that her foster mother “was worth more dead than alive.”

The indictment says Knoefel coached Zunich on how to make the killing look like a burglary by rummaging through jewelry and leaving a door partly open. He offered alternative scenarios for the killing, including having Zunich cut herself to make it look like self-defense or, if arrested, by claiming she didn’t remember what happened or was insane, the indictment says.

Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulson declined to elaborate on the relationship between Knoefel and Zunich beyond what was in the indictment, which detailed sexual encounters over an eight-month period last year. Coulson also would not comment on whether Zunich had cooperated with the investigation targeting her foster father.

The case against Zunich hasn’t been presented to the grand jury, and that may reflect her willingness to cooperate and strike a plea deal, said Cleveland attorney Ronald Frey, who isn’t involved in the case.

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