Kenneth Thompson — the Missouri man who traveled to Arizona, killed his sister-in-law and her boyfriend and used Scientology as a defense — died Wednesday, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry. Officials are investigating his death as an apparent homicide.
Thompson was pronounced dead shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday, the department announced. He was found in his “assigned housing unit where life-saving measures were conducted,” the department said. He was an inmate in the Arizona State Prison Complex Eyman, in Florence.
The department has identified two suspects, also inmates, “for the attack,” but did not offer more details.
Thompson’s crime was shocking, and the subsequent northern Arizona trial was gripping. In 2012, he traveled to Arizona from his home in Missouri and used a hatchet and a knife to kill his sister-in-law and her boyfriend. He poured acid on their bodies, set the Prescott Valley house on fire and fled.
A Prescott jury in 2019 found him guilty of first-degree murder, burglary, arson, criminal damage and tampering with evidence. He was sentenced to death.
Thompson’s attorneys said his roots in Scientology explained the killings
Whether Thompson killed his sister-in-law and her boyfriend — Penelope Edwards and Troy Dunn — wasn’t up for debate in his 2019 trial. His attorneys didn’t dispute that.
But they took issue with the prosecution’s portrait of Thompson as a premeditated killer. He was concerned about the two children in his sister-in-law’s care, they argued.
Thompson’s wife had taken care of them while Penelope Edwards was in prison. Once she was released and got the children back, Thompson and his wife often worried about them. When Thompson learned one of the children was receiving psychiatric treatment at a children’s hospital, that was the last straw.
Thompson was raised as a Scientologist and his attorneys argued that Scientologists view psychology as “evil and a scam.” He believed he was on a mission to rescue these children from spiritual death, they argued.
What happened in 2012
Court testimony helped piece together a narrative of what happened in Prescott Valley in 2012.
Thompson took off for Arizona. His attorneys said even his then-wife, Gloria, didn’t know about his plans. He had told her he was heading to Memphis to deal with legal issues surrounding his parents’ estate.
His attorneys said he arrived at a junction at Interstate 40 and impulsively decided to bear west, heading to Arizona. As he drove to Arizona, which court testimony said took him just more than one day, Gloria began texting him. But Thompson left his phone at home.
He stayed at a motel. He went to Walmart the next morning to buy a hatchet and a change of clothes. His attorneys maintained the hatchet was for a camping trip he planned.
He took a taxi to his sister-in-law’s house. Details became much more muddled after that.
Thompson told the jury he wanted to bribe his sister-in-law into letting him bring the children back to Missouri with him. The Prescott Daily Courier reported he testified to the jury for almost four hours.
He claimed the conversation turned violent. His attorneys said he struck in the heat of passion. They asked for a manslaughter verdict.
Hours after he arrived at his sister-in-law’s home, neighbors reported a house fire. Responding crews discovered the victims’ bodies. Police pulled Thompson over on I-40 heading east.
A search revealed a hatchet with human hair and blood on its blade.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Man who used Scientology as murder defense found dead