SMITHLAND, Ky. — Kevin Dunlap stabbed 5-year-old Ethan Frensley more times than any of his other victims, Dr. Deidre Schluckebier, regional medical examiner for western Kentucky, testified today.
He was stabbed 11 times, she said. One of the wounds penetrated his heart.
His sister, 14-year-old Kortney McBurney-Frensley, was stabbed four times — three times in the chest and once in her neck. Another sister, 17-year-old Kayla Williams, died from a deep slash to her throat, Schluckebier said. She was also stabbed in the neck.
Kentucky’s forensic anthropologist, Dr. Emily Craig, testified this morning in Livingston Circuit Court about her efforts to recover the badly charred bodies of Ethan and Kortney. After they were stabbed to death, Dunlap set the house ablaze.
“The remains and associated debris in these cases are so incredibly fragile, so we know we’re only going to get one chance to do it right,” Craig said.
She described to jurors how she dug a pathway to the bodies to preserve the crime scene.
“There was a lot of debris on top of (Ethan),” she said.
“A ceiling fan and a bed were directly on top of him.”
Kortney’s remains were found about 10 feet away.
After the bodies were recovered and sent to the medical examiner’s office in Madisonville, Schluckebier asked for Craig’s assistance in the skeletal examination, Craig’s area of expertise.
Craig showed jurors photos this morning of Ethan’s thoracic bones. Close-up shots, she explained, illustrated force used in the attack. One of his ribs was completely split.
Schluckebier also testified about a serrated steak knife that broke off at the handle during Kayla’s attack. The blade was found during the autopsy in Kayla’s sweatshirt, she said.
Today marks the second day of testimony in the sentencing phase of Kevin Dunlap’s murder trial.
The defense has not cross-examined any of the witnesses called by the prosecution.
Dunlap pleaded guilty last week to 13 counts — 6 of them capital offenses — relating to the fatal stabbing of the three children and the rape and attempted murder of their mother, Kristy Frensley, on Oct. 15, 2008. Although his attorneys advised him against the plea, Dunlap told Circuit Judge C.A. “Woody” Woodall he thought it was the right thing to do.
A jury, which was seated after six days of questioning, will decide his fate. He faces 20 years in prison to the death penalty.
More than a house fire
When neighbors noticed smoke billowing from the home at 169 Military Road, they worried Kristy Frensley and her children were still inside.
Karen Walker saw the blaze after picking up her son from school. When she saw Kristy Frensley’s Jeep in the driveway, she knew who was inside.
“I just kept screaming, ‘There are babies in there,’” Walker testified Thursday, sobbing.
Shane Lawry, a Fort Campbell soldier who lived on a nearby road, was packing for redeployment to Afghanistan when he noticed the smoke.
“People were yelling kids were inside the house,” Lawry said.
He went into the burning home through the front door, and yelled to see if anyone was inside. He didn’t hear a response, and when the smoke and heat became overwhelming, he got out, Lawry testified.
Then he saw someone’s foot in a window.
Lawry and other neighbors grabbed a chair and broke the glass, eventually pulling Kayla Williams from the inferno.
“When we grabbed her legs, it was so hot it startled us. So we pulled back and it ripped her skin off onto our hands.”
Neighbors then realized the 17-year-old’s throat had been cut and her legs and arms were bound. She’d been gagged with a pair of pantyhose, testimony revealed.
Walker and another woman tried to administer CPR to Williams, but were unsuccessful.
She was trying to breathe, Walker said.
“I knew in my mind there was nothing that could be done,” Trigg County Sheriff’s Deputy Kenneth Butts said Thursday.
Eventually, emergency personnel put a defibrillator pack on Williams’ heart, but it failed to revive her.
Williams would die minutes later, her brother and sister still inside the burning home.
One of the volunteer firefighters who responded to the blaze had been at the home an hour earlier.
Matt Ledford testified Thursday he’d stopped at the Frensleys around 4:30 p.m. It was part of an almost daily routine, as he was a close family friend.
When no one answered his knocks, he opened the door.
"I may have stepped in maybe a half a foot or a foot, that’s it,” Ledford said.
He didn’t call for anyone, and said the only noise he heard was that of the swimming pool pump motor.
Ledford drove to Hopkinsville after leaving Trigg County and had just got to town when he was paged to the fire.
When he arrived, he saw the body of a close friend, 17-year-old Kayla Williams, lying near the house. Kristy Frensley, her mother, was floating face-up in the pool with her hands tied behind her back, he said.
Ledford stayed at the scene into the next morning, only leaving for an hour in the middle of the night.
The extended-bed truck he saw in the driveway when he stopped by earlier suddenly became more important.
“The first three letters of the tag were H-E-Y — ‘Hey,’ Ledford said. “That’s why I remembered it.”
Surviving a nightmare
When Kristy Frensley was admitted to Jennie Stuart Medical Center after being attacked in her home, she was riddled with stab wounds.
It wasn’t until an X-ray was done that doctors discovered a broken-off butter knife lodged in her neck, testimony revealed Thursday.
Dr. Frances Marshall Vanmeter removed the knife during surgery, and closed up what wounds he could. The 36-year-old patient was cold to the touch and had a rapid heart beat when she was admitted, Vanmeter testified Thursday.
Frensley had been brought to the hospital after emergency personnel found her floating face up in the pool near her burning house. Butts, who’d known Kristy Frensley most of her life, was the first police officer on the scene.
When the former firefighter arrived and saw the inferno, he knew it was a crime scene, Butts testified Thursday.
“I knew there was no way to go in and come out alive,” he said.
He started taking photographs of the crime scene, and when he got to the patio, someone spotted Frensley in the pool.
“I asked her, ‘Kristy, what happened?’ She said ‘I’ve been raped.’ I said ‘Kristy, who did it?’ She said, ‘I didn’t know him.’”
When Butts asked for a description, Frensley said the man was white and had been wearing a DIRECTV shirt.
Butts helped pull Frensley from the pool and put her on a stretcher before riding with her in an ambulance. He held her head the entire ride, he said.
Embedded in time
Photos shown Thursday took jurors back to Oct. 15, 2008.
They depicted a burning house, a bloodied Kristy Frensley floating in her pool and graphic images of three slain children.
A defibrillator pack still rested on Kayla William’s chest. Her throat had been slit from ear to ear and soot marked her face.
Commonwealth’s Attorney G.L. Ovey pointed to two other pictures. He said they were of Kortney McBurney-Frensley and Ethan Frensley. The unrecognizable images depicted only charred remains amid scorched rubble.
Other images showed the home fully engulfed in frames.
Kristy Frensley’s journey — from pool to hospital — was depicted pictorially. A hospital room showed blood-soaked gauze and close-ups of her wounds.
She’d left the courtroom before photos of her slain children were shown, but several muffled sobs could be heard as they were projected on the television screen. Doug Williams, Kayla’s father, wiped tears from his face.
JULIA HUNTER can be reached at 270-887-3262 or email@example.com.