Richmond police charge EKU student with murder, kidnapping in case of missing couple

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2012 

RICHMOND — An Eastern Kentucky University physics major and a former Iraq war veteran are accused of kidnapping and killing a Richmond couple who were reported missing nearly two years ago.

Police said Tuesday that two bodies had been found.

Daniel R. Keene, 26, the EKU student, was booked into the Madison County jail Monday night by Richmond police. On Tuesday, police charged Matt Denholm, 27, the Iraq war veteran, who already was facing charges of murder and attempted murder in a November shooting in Berea.

Both are charged with murder, kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence in the deaths of Sonsaray "Sonsi" Warford, 30, and her boyfriend, Charles DeMarcus "Chew" Walker, 30, Richmond police Maj. Bob Mott said. Warford and Walker had been missing since late June 2010.

Keene, a junior at EKU, remains in custody in lieu of a $2 million bond, according to the jail Web site. Denholm also remains in the Madison County jail.

Keene confessed Monday night to kidnapping Warford and Walker from their Keystone Drive apartment on or about June 28, 2010, according to a uniform citation filed by Richmond police in Madison District Court.

"Daniel Keene stated (that) after kidnapping Walker and Warford, he and an associate murdered Walker and Warford within Madison County," the citation said.

The citation does not name the "associate," but a 41-page affidavit filed by Richmond police detective William O'Donnell says Keene and Denholm, who worked as security guards at a Lexington hotel, were hired to kill Walker. The affidavit indicates Warford was killed only because she happened to be with Walker.

The affidavit says Walker was the intended target of a "hit" because he allegedly stole a large amount of money from Ja'Kolbe Chenault.

The source for this information, according to the affidavit, is Lebruce Ellington, an acquaintance of Chenault who once dated Bridget Hall. Hall told police she was a close friend of Keene and referred to him as a "cousin" even though they are not blood relations. For a time, Hall shared an apartment with Keene.

Ellington, arrested in November on federal drug charges, allegedly spoke to Keene about "getting back" at Walker, the affidavit says. (The affidavit also says that Ellington and Keene were both intoxicated and that Ellington did not take his conversation with Keene seriously.)

Ellington told police that a week or two before the disappearance of Warford and Walker, Hall drove him, Keene and Denholm past Warford's and Walker's apartment to show where the couple lived. The apartment is less than a half-mile from the Garden City Drive apartment where Keene lived.

Ellington told police that Keene and Denholm produced an audio recording of the couple's killing, the affidavit says. "Lebruce Ellington stated that he heard what sounded like Warford's voice screaming, followed by four gunshots," the affidavit says.

Ellington told Hall that the recording captured Warford "praying to God to save her," the affidavit says. Ellington said "he heard Matthew Denholm on the recording telling Sonsaray Warford that God did not exist."

The murder weapon was a .22-caliber revolver that Ellington had provided to Denholm, the affidavit says. Ellington told police that the last time he saw the weapon was at Keene's apartment. It's unclear whether Ellington has been charged in the deaths of Warford and Walker; the affidavit does not mention charges against Ellington.

In any case, "Daniel Keene stated that the items used in the commission of the kidnapping and murders were disposed of in Madison County," the citation says.

Warford and Walker were last seen June 28, 2010, in a 1999 Chrysler 300M on the Eastern Bypass in Richmond.

Relatives went to check on Warford after she didn't answer their telephone calls, but all they found in the Keystone Drive apartment was her purse, a cellphone and a puppy.

Warford would telephone her mother regularly, but that "came to an abrupt end" in late June 2010, Mott, the police major, said in a 2011 interview.

Warford's car was found in Louisville on Nov. 8, 2010, a little more than four months after she and Walker were reported missing. The car was searched, but that did not produce any information that helped to identify the perpetrators, the affidavit says. The vehicle's discovery was kept confidential and was not released to the victims' families or to the general public, the affidavit says.

Richmond police, with assistance from Kentucky State Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, found two bodies after a search of multiple sites, Mott said Tuesday. He would not say where the bodies were found.

Mott said autopsies were to be performed Tuesday at the state medical examiner's office in Frankfort. Police were awaiting preliminary results late Tuesday.

"This investigation has been going on for many, many months," Mott said Tuesday. "We've been working it in connection with the Kentucky State Police and ATF. We've received tremendous support. They've been with us every step of the way.

"This is a big puzzle, and this is just one of the pieces of it. There's obviously more to it, and that's why we can't comment any further, because there is still further investigation by all the agencies involved."

Denholm is one of four people indicted in a Nov. 21 shootout in Berea in which Zackary Flower, 25, was killed, and Flower's roommate, Kevin Price, was wounded. Denholm was indicted in that case on charges of murder, criminal attempt to commit murder and burglary.

Keene is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday morning before Madison District Judge Earl Ray Neal. It's not clear when Denholm will be arraigned on the new charges against him.

Court records in Madison County show no other felony offenses for Keene. Richmond police ticketed him for expired registration plates and failure to produce an insurance card, but those infractions were dismissed.

Friends of Keene were in disbelief Tuesday about his arrest. Tory Pendleton, 30, who has known Keene for three years, said the charges are "a total shock" to anyone who knows Keene.

"I still have hope that he is innocent," Pendleton said. "I just don't see him murdering someone. I don't. I do not see it. I've known Daniel for several years, and the type of person Daniel is, that isn't him. That isn't him at all. He's a stand-up guy."

Keene is from Pike County, friends said, and his parents are dead.

"He would never hurt a soul," said Britney Tinsley, 23, Keene's girlfriend. "He is without a doubt the kindest person I've ever met in my entire life. ... I've known him for going on a year now. I think I would have known if something was up. I was with him nearly every single day."

Gregory Todd, Warford's father, said he had never heard of Keene until Tuesday when police told him about the arrest.

"Never knew him. Never heard nothing of him," Todd said. "I just never heard of him."

But Todd said relatives of other missing victims must "never give up" believing that answers will be forthcoming. He said he had no clue that there was about to be a break in the case.

"When you get the call, it just hits you like a ton of bricks," Todd said. "I've had faith all along in God, and I've got to keep faith in him to keep me where I'm at right now."

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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