One of two men who admitted to taking part in murdering Wichita couple Alfred “Sonny” Carpenter and his wife Pauline Carpenter at the Barton County Fair in 2018 was in court on Tuesday to testify against the woman who allegedly ordered the killing.
Michael Fowler Jr., a former employee of the Wagner Carnival, was the prosecution’s first witness as the preliminary hearing for Kimberly Younger got underway.
Younger, approximate age 53, is charged with one count of capital murder, or the alternative of two counts of premeditated murder, as well as conspiracy to commit murder, criminal solicitation and theft.
The Carpenters had been selling crafts, purses and other handmade items at the Barton County Fair in July of 2018. Fowler testified Tuesday that he and fellow carnival worker Rusty Lee Frasier killed the Carpenters and used their truck and camper to drive the bodies to Arkansas. He said Younger identified the Carpenters as victims and she drove the truck out of Barton County. The state maintains that Younger, posing as “Frank Zaitchik” via phone texts, ordered the killings.
Barton County District Judge Steve Johnson presided over the case and found probable cause that the crime was committed and Younger should proceed to arraignment on all counts. District Judge Mike Keeley will schedule the arraignment and preside over future hearings in this case.
Fowler and Frasier entered guilty pleas earlier this year to two counts of first-degree, premeditated murder. In exchange for their pleas and promises to cooperate in the case, charges of capital murder were dismissed against both men. Their sentence hearings have been deferred pending the outcome of the Younger case.
The state maintains that between July 11-14, 2018, Fowler, Younger and Frasier, all employees of the Wagner Carnival set up at the Barton County Fair, hatched the plot to kill the Carpenters and obtain their possessions.
On Tuesday, Fowler testified that he and Younger approached the camper where Pauline Carpenter slept and, as Alfred Carpenter came out of camper, Fowler tried to cut his throat. He said Frasier stabbed Mr. Carpenter and Fowler shot them both.
Assistant Attorney General Jessica Domme, summarizing Fowler’s testimony Tuesday afternoon, said Younger directed, encouraged and aided them in the crime; Fowler shot Mr. Carpenter and Younger told him, “go take care of the wife.”
After a clean-up, the three allegedly took the Carpenters’ Dodge Ram pickup with the camper trailer and the bodies to Arkansas, where the bodies were dumped near the Natural Dam in the Ozark National Forest.
Other witnesses at the preliminary hearing on Tuesday were the victims’ daughter, Kristi Lee, and three law enforcement officers from Arkansas.
Sgt. Daniel Perry with the Van Buren Police Department in Arkansas said the investigation led officers to the Vista Hills Apartment Complex where bags were collected and Younger, Fowler and Frasier were taken in for questioning, one at a time.
Younger identified a red backpack as belonging to her. “She told me that the murder weapon was in the bag,” Perry said. He found a Ruger 9mm handgun.
Younger was going by the name Myrna Kahn and she allowed Perry to look at her cellphone which had Facebook messenger apps for the names “Jenna Roberts” and “Frank Zaitchik.”
Perry testified that he saw an exchange of texts between Fowler and Frank Zaitchik.
“He (Fowler) was telling her that the job was done, they’re dead,” Perry testified. Fowler said he was anxious and was experiencing chest pains. “Frank was telling him to be calm, listen to Jenna,” Perry said. “Basically, they were discussing the whole aftermath of the homicide.”
Lt. Patti Stroud from the Crawford County (Ark.) Sheriff’s Office testified that she and another officer were asked to follow a map that officers had obtained that would describe where the bodies were located.
They went to a rural area off Starr Road in Crawford County and the smell of decomposing bodies led them to a pile of rocks. “We collected evidence in layers,” she said. Under tree limbs, large rocks, a mattress and bedding, and more rocks, the bodies of the Carpenters lay face down, next to each other.
Younger was represented by attorneys Timothy Frieden and Jeffrey Wicks of the state’s Death Penalty Defense Unit and the State was represented by Domme and Victor Braden from the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.
The defense did not call any witnesses but Frieden argued the state had failed to meet its burden of proof. He noted that although “Frank Zaitchik” was a persona on Younger’s phone, there was nothing to prove that Younger had sent the Zaitchik messages.