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The couple moved into the Chagrin Drive home around 2008. They had a daughter in 2009. Lisa's older daughter from her first marriage lived there too.
Things were going well for Sabrina at her new school and the Knoefel house was a good setting for her, but according to three separate friends, she was not getting along with Lisa.
"Before the incident, she told me that her stepmom (foster mom) made her life hell," says one friend who has known Sabrina since middle school and visited her at the Knoefel house. She didn't press Sabrina for details and doesn't know exactly why.
Another friend heard similar complaints from Sabrina about Lisa. She got along great with Kevin, though, he says.
"She always said her dad (Kevin) was the only one she got along with," he says. "He always stuck up for her."
Sam had been over to the house several times and noticed that close relationship between Sabrina and Kevin. A little too close, he says.
"I was over at that house and I just got this weird fucking feeling from this dude," says Sam. "It was a weird feeling, he was a touchy dude."
After Lisa's death hit the news, one of her good friends posted on Facebook that Sabrina told her she was going to do it weeks earlier. She didn't think she would seriously go through with it.
On August 8, 2013, nearly nine months after the death of Lisa Knoefel, a Lake County grand jury filed an eleven-count indictment against Lisa's widower and Sabrina's foster father, Kevin D. Knoefel. He's facing six counts of sexual battery, two counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and three counts of complicity to aggravated murder.
Kevin began a sexual relationship with his foster daughter starting March 2012, when she was still 17, and planned with Sabrina to murder his wife to collect insurance money starting in August 2012, prosecutors allege. Before this, his criminal record was spotless.
According to the News-Herald, Kevin Knoefel returned to Willoughby Hills the day after the murder and was "assisting with the investigation." A source told Scene that Kevin also attended Lisa's funeral.
"I would advise the court that the defendant was entrusted with the care of a foster child and abused that trust by engaging in an illicit sexual relationship with that foster child," said Patrick Condon in an August 16 hearing, where Knoefel pleaded not guilty. "He conspired and acted complicity with that foster child to murder his wife."
According to the indictment, prosecutors allege Kevin Knoefel:
› "engaged in discussions" with Sabrina to murder Lisa while she was asleep in her bedroom,
› told Sabrina that Lisa "was worth more dead than alive" (i.e. life insurance payouts),
› agreed with Sabrina that Sabrina would stab Lisa to death and "directed" her "as to the specific knife to use", demonstrated how to twist the knife into Lisa's body,
› discussed with Sabrina how to either make Lisa's death look like a burglary by going through her jewelry or cut her own legs to make it look like she killed Lisa in self-defense,
› and discussed that if Sabrina were caught by police, she would say she didn't remember what happened or would claim insanity.
Prosecutors say in the months after Lisa's death he collected on her life insurance money to buy new cars, take flying lessons, and pay off the mortgage on their previously foreclosed-on Willoughby Hills house. He lived in the house where Lisa was killed with their three-year-old daughter and his elderly mother up until his arrest.
Prosecutors allege Knoefel said his wife Lisa was "worth more dead than alive." He cashed in on her life insurance policy — $785,000 according to the prosecutors and News-Herald — to pay off their previously foreclosed-on house, bought cars and took flying lessons, they say. He planned for Zunich to kill her and then financially benefitted from it all while his foster daughter took the fall.
Lake County prosecutor Charles Coulson refused to answer any questions about the case when Scene contacted him early last week. Assistant prosecutors Karen Kowall and Patrick Condon did not return multiple phone messages seeking comment.
At an August 28 bond hearing, Kevin's defense attorney said, of course, the state's evidence against his client is incredibly weak.
"At this stage of the proceedings, the only 'evidence' offered by the State of Ohio is that of Sabrina Zunich who violently murdered Mr. Knoefel's wife with a knife." said attorney Michael Connick. "This emotionally unstable and troubled young woman, through her purported cooperation, exchanged her cooperation for a life sentence without the possibility of parole after 30 years as opposed to a life sentence without the possibility of parole."