The circumstances surrounding the March 2016 killing of Iolan Shawn Cook were revealed in frequently graphic testimony Tuesday in an Allen County courtroom.
A series of witnesses spoke about the events leading up to, during and following Cook’s March 13, 2016, death. Charged were Joshua Knapp, Rhonda Jackson and James Myers, all of whom are charged with first-degree murder in Cook’s death.
Much of the testimony came from Amber Boeken, who formerly had been charged with first-degree murder in the case, but has agreed to testify against her co-defendants as part of a plea deal.
Magistrate Judge Tod Davis allowed the consolidated preliminary hearing at the request of Allen County Attorney Jerry Hathaway.
The preliminary hearing is expected to conclude today. Afterward, Davis will decide whether Knapp, Myers and Jackson should be bound over for trial.
BOEKEN testified about her role in the killing, with a key part of her testimony later contradicted by another prosecution witness.
Boeken said Cook’s killing stemmed from a drug deal gone bad, after he had been asked by Jackson to sell a large quantity of Dilaudid pills, a narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain.
However, Boeken said Cook later claimed he had been robbed of both the drugs and money.
That, and Cook’s inability to retrieve a phone and other belongings owned by Knapp from a female acquaintance — Jessica Epting — led to a skirmish between Knapp and Cook the evening of March 13, 2016, in Boeken’s yard, according to Boeken.
She said Knapp left the house immediately after the tussle, while Cook went into Boeken’s house to rest, eventually falling asleep on her couch.
Boeken said Knapp returned a short while later in a truck belonging to Myers, still insistent Cook had drugs and money in his possession.
Boeken said Knapp suggested killing Cook to get them back, while Boeken only encouraged him to scare Cook.
Boeken said Knapp and she then awakened Cook, who was still groggy.
The trio loaded into Myers’ pickup, eventually making their way to a county road near the Allen County Country Club.
“We weren’t going anywhere in particular,” she said, “just some place secluded.”
Boeken testified they stopped, pushed Cook out of the passenger seat, and Knapp forced Cook to his hands and knees.
Boeken said she was still in the truck when she heard Cook yell “If you’re going to do it, do it!”
At that point, Boeken said Knapp used a knife to slit Cook’s throat.
But Cook didn’t die, Boeken said, and continued moving around.
Boeken said she and Knapp decided on another tack, having Cook climb into the truck bed — he was bleeding profusely at that point — returning to Myers’ home and then heading back into Iola.
Boeken said the plan was to take Cook to Neosho Falls and dump him in the Neosho River.
There were two problems, she said: 1. Myers’ truck did not have enough gasoline to make it to Neosho Falls; and 2. Neither knew how to get to Neosho Falls “the back way.”
They sought directions from Jackson, while Boeken called for another truck to transport Cook, this one owned by Brent Cagle.
Cagle, who lived in Bronson, testified he declined to let Boeken borrow the truck, but instead drove to Iola to meet them, unaware of what had occurred.
Cagle, after confronted with a chaotic scene upon arriving in Iola, said he agreed to help take Cook to Neosho Falls out of fear for his life. ”She told me ‘I told you I cut him,’” Cagle testified.
After Cagle arrived, Boeken said plastic was put onto Cagle’s truck bed to prevent blood from spilling onto Cagle’s truck bed. She then helped Cook — who was still alive — climb into the back of Cagle’s truck.
After some difficulty finding where to go — Boeken and Cagle both said she had been calling Jackson for directions as they went — they used a cell phone’s GPS maps to find a road that came within yards of the river between Iola and Le Roy.
THIS IS where the testimony diverges.
Boeken said Cagle and Knapp carried Cook from his truck bed onto the riverbed, before Cook began struggling once again for safety, rolling into the river and attempting to swim away.
She said Knapp jumped in the water in pursuit, quickly caught up with Cook and stabbed him several times in the neck and throat area.
Cagle, conversely, said he remained several feet away as Cook was pulled from the truck bed by Boeken and Knapp. He testified seeing Boeken stab once at Cook while he was on the banks of the Neosho, at which time Cook rolled into the water and attempted to flee.
Like Boeken, Cagle said he saw Knapp enter the water in pursuit, eventually catching up with Cook and “making a stabbing motion,” although at that distance he did not see a knife or other weapon in Knapp’s hand.
Cagle also set the scene upon loading back into his truck afterward. He said Knapp removed his pants and Boeken her shirt, presumably because they were soaked with blood or water.
He also testified that Knapp compared the difference in stabbing somebody and “pulling a trigger.”
“They were bragging,” Cagle said, referring to both Knapp and Boeken.
Of note, Cagle admitted that he initially was less than forthright and honest when first interviewed by law enforcement in the aftermath of Cook’s death, because he remained afraid for his life.
Cagle recounted a conversation with Boeken the day after Cook’s murder, noting she told him a similar fate could happen to Cagle’s wife or children if he failed to keep the details secret.
Cagle eventually changed his mind, and agreed to share what he knew with KBI agents. It was his tip that led to the discovery of Cook’s body along the Neosho northwest of Iola 16 days after Cook was killed.
IN THE DAYS after Cook’s death, Boeken said her and Knapp’s bloody clothes and other items were gathered in a plastic bag and taken to a site in a secluded area of the county and burned. She said they were directed to the site and accompanied by Myers.
OTHERS to testify on the witness stand included Dr. Erik Mitchell, a forensic pathologist who examined Cook’s body after it was discovered. Mitchell said Cook was cut several times in the throat and neck area, and that he also had wounds to his forearm, describing those as “defense” wounds.
Maisy Hale, who was with Myers the night of Cook’s killing, testified she saw what appeared to be Cook in the back of Myers’ pickup after Knapp and Boeken returned to Myers’ house before they embarked to Iola and then Neosho Falls. She said she was close enough to hear a “gurgling” sound coming from the back of the pickup.
Matthew Broyles, an acquaintance of Knapp’s, said Knapp told him of the events. “You’re lucky you were busy that night,” Knapp said, according to Broyles.
Jason Botts, a special agent with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, recalled his interviews with Hale, as well as retrieving items from the aforementioned burn pit. He said two folding knives were discovered among the ashes, although neither showed any traces of DNA.
DEFENSE attorneys took turns cross-examining the witnesses.
John Boyd, who represents Knapp, pressed Hale, Cagle and Broyles and Boeken herself on Boeken’s past involvement with drugs.
Boeken, not Knapp, was the true killer, Boyd contended, citing Boeken’s “history of threatening violence against drug clients who owe her money.”
Boyd said it was Boeken, not Knapp, who was friends with Jackson, to whom Cook owed money.
Boyd said Knapp entered the scene “at the last minute and had no direct involvement in the killing.”
Robert A. Myers, Jackson’s attorney, meanwhile, focused on Boeken’s testimony that noted she did not tell Jackson Cook was being killed, but rather something bad had happened and that they needed directions to Neosho Falls without being more specific.
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