Ketchner trial: Killer's fate rests with jury
KINGMAN - After seven weeks of testimony, jurors on Thursday heard closing arguments from attorneys who asked them to answer two very different questions: Should convicted killer Darrell Bryant Ketchner be granted a measure of leniency, or should he be put to death for the aggravated murder of Ariel Allison?
For his part, Ketchner was allowed to address the jury without risking cross-examination from prosecutor Megan McCoy.
Instead of speaking to jurors, he looked directly at members of his extended family who sat in the gallery.
He stared at Ariel Allison's mother, Jennifer Allison, and her former in-laws, Bob and Arlene Allison, the parents of her late husband Shawn Allison, who died when Jennifer was just 20 and Ariel and her younger sister were 4 and 2 years old.
"Bob, Arlene, Jennifer," he said, "you guys are the greatest people in the world and I took so much from you ... I want to apologize to the Allison family. They are honestly the best family I ever had. Jennifer, I love you so much."
Ketchner did not address Ashley Ketchner, 26, and Ariel Ketchner-Harkness, 22, who sat in the row behind the Allisons.
They are Ketchner's oldest and youngest daughters from his first marriage. They pleaded for mercy for their father in testimony given in the penalty phase of the trial.
Closing arguments come a couple of weeks after the same jury found Ketchner guilty of first-degree murder in the July 4, 2009 stabbing death of Ariel Allison.
She was the 18-year-old daughter of Ketchner's former girlfriend, Jennifer Allison, the mother of three of his seven children.
The families had lived across the street from one another for years when Darrell Ketchner and Jennifer Allison began a relationship described in all accounts as tumultuous and toxic.
The Ketchner and Allison children played together before then. Afterward, the girls became good friends who loved each other like sisters.
Eventually, the two families would blend into one.
Darrell Ketchner, unable to beat his lifelong addiction to methamphetamine and unwilling to leave Jennifer Allison alone, committed acts that would destroy both of his families and shock the community.
Ariel Allison took an agonizingly long time to die, according to testimony. There were eight puncture wounds across her chest, back and face. The knife punctured her heart and lungs. One facial wound began in her cheek and ended through her ear.
Ariel Allison was alive when Ketchner shot her mother, but she had no idea what had happened as she lay on the floor of a back bedroom inside a home on Pacific Avenue and died.
The bullet that struck Jennifer Allison wrought destruction. The wounds were so grievous that she required several surgeries, including facial reconstruction. She continues to live with severe physical and emotional infirmities.
David Shapiro, one of two defense attorneys representing Ketchner, 54, said the government was "too eager" to put Ketchner to death. He attacked the punishment as barbaric.
While he acknowledged Ketchner's actions truly were horrendous, he told jurors not to seek an eye for an eye, but to show society has evolved beyond imposing the ultimate punishment for its worst offenders.
He said the death penalty devalued human life and that killing Ketchner would not change the fact that Ariel Allison is gone.
"Death was ugly when Darrell Ketchner engaged in it and death is ugly when the government engages in it," he said.
Shapiro also suggested Ketchner's violence was the result of his childhood, which involved a father who physically and emotionally abused his mother, allegedly sexually abused a stepdaughter and daughter, and taught Ketchner to essentially be a bad person.
"We're contending Darrell Ketchner was made to kill," said Shapiro. "We're not making excuses. Darrell Ketchner will take his last breath in prison. People emulate behavior they have learned."
Prosecutor McCoy dismissed the argument blaming Ketchner's father, saying many people endure difficult childhoods and rise above them.
"He had two sisters who endured way worse than he did. They were molested. There's no evidence either one of them were on trial for murder," she said.
McCoy said Ketchner deserves the death penalty not only for the brutality of his crimes, but for other things he did in the weeks and months leading up to the murder of Ariel Allison and the shooting of Jennifer Allison.
She pointed out Ketchner repeatedly threatened to "slit Jennifer's throat" if she filed for child support. He threatened to kill every member of their family if she didn't let him have custody.
Six months before the incident, he was arrested for domestic violence. Four months before July 4, he was arrested again for breaking the windows of a car parked in front of the Allison's Pacific Avenue home.
McCoy said the reality of Ketchner's life and his current situation came down to choices.
She said he's spent only about six of the last 21 years out of prison and that he's always blamed others for his problems.
"He made lots of choices in 51 years," she said. "Career choices. Wakeup calls. His crime is attributable to him because on July 4, 2009 Darrell Ketchner decided to kill.
"He went there to kill. He attacked his family room to room ... and he left two innocent, beautiful young women bleeding out. He left them for dead."
The jury will begin deliberations Monday. With new rules in place, each juror has to make up his or her own mind on what Ketchner's punishment should be.
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys were burdened with having to prove whether Ketchner deserves the death penalty or a term of life in prison with no possibility of parole.
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