Woman Stabbed to Death by Foster Daughter Who Had Secret Affair With Husband
Lisa and her daughter. Source: Dateline
Sabrina Zunich had anything but an easy life. Her parents struggled with addiction and had a laundry list of crimes ranging from grand theft auto to drug abuse. They soon abandoned Sabrina who was forced to move in with her grandmother. Sabrina’s chaotic life and upbringing resulted in severe behavioural problems. She was arrested several times until she was removed from her grandmother’s home and placed into the foster care system at age fourteen. She bounced from group home to group home until she finally received the news she had been waiting so long for; a family wanted to foster her.
41-year-old Lisa Knoefel was a social worker who had committed her entire life to bettering the lives of vulnerable youth. Lisa wanted nothing more than to give Sabrina the love she had never known. 16-year-old Sabrina moved into Lisa's Willoughby Hills, Ohio home with her husband Kevin Knoefel and their two daughters.
On a chilly early November morning, Lisa was sleeping soundly in her bed while Kevin, a truck driver, was driving to Michigan. Sabrina walked into Lisa’s room wearing a ski mask and began stabbing her foster mother with a 10-inch serrated knife. Lisa’s 13-year-old daughter heard her mother’s screams and ran into the room only to find her mother covered in a pool of blood. The young girl immediately phoned 911 and hysterically cried to the dispatcher that her mother was being stabbed by her sister. She screamed at Sabrina to stop, that she was going to kill her mother and repeatedly asked why.
Lisa suffered a dozen stab wounds and 166 cuts. She had curled up in the fetal position during the attack and several of the wounds were twisted. She was stabbed in the head, neck and stomach and had several incisions on her arms, legs and hands. Two of her fingers were nearly severed, signifying she fought back and she was viciously stabbed in one of her eyes. She had two fatal wounds; a stab wound to her carotid artery and another to her lungs. The attack was so violent and brutal, the knife was bent afterwards.
Authorities entered the home just as Sabrina walked out of Lisa’s bedroom holding the knife. Lisa’s 3-year-old daughter was found hiding in her bedroom closet. Sabrina was immediately arrested and charged with aggravated murder.
When Kevin returned home from Michigan he was noted as being eerily calm over the situation, “I can’t say how a person should appear when their wife’s been brutally murdered but he just didn’t appear to be fazed by it,” stated Lisa’s friend in an interview. He phoned his life insurance company thirty minutes after he was told his wife had been murdered. While Sabrina was in jail awaiting trial, Kevin received Lisa’s life insurance policy. He purchased guns, a home in Florida and several vehicles. He attempted to visit Sabrina in jail but he was not allowed to see her. Sabrina assumed the very thing she feared had occurred; Kevin had abandoned her. This led her to reveal the truth behind Lisa’s murder and to the arrest of Kevin Knoefel.
Sabrina in the courtroom. Source.
Eight months after the murder, Sabrina told investigators she had been involved in a relationship with her foster father, 42-year-old Kevin Knoefel, since March. Kevin had spent months grooming Sabrina. He told her he no longer loved Lisa, that he wanted to divorce her but did not want to share custody of the 3-year-old daughter they shared together. He stated that unless Lisa was dead, he would kill himself. Kevin promised Sabrina that if she took care of his wife, he would cash in on her $785,000 life insurance and the two would move in together and raise Kevin and Lisa’s 3-year-old daughter.
Kevin was arrested and taken into custody. He denied any involvement in the murder, claiming Sabrina had committed the murder out of anger because Lisa had become suspicious of her relationship with Kevin and told her she would have to move out when she turned eighteen in October. Kevin stated that Sabrina acted alone.
Kevin in the courtroom. Source.
The jury didn’t buy it. Kevin was ultimately found guilty of 11 counts; three counts of complicity to aggravated murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, and six counts of battery for his relationship with Sabrina. The evidence relied heavily on Sabrina’s testimony against him and he was ultimately sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
Lisa’s ex-husband and the father of her 13-year-old daughter who witnessed the murder and phoned 911, Nicholas Zanella, attended the trial and testified that he spoke to Lisa about Sabrina only days prior to the murder. According to Zanella, Lisa told him that Sabrina was acting like Kevin’s wife and their 3-year-old daughter’s mother. Lisa said she was frightened and wanted Sabrina gone but Kevin refused and told her she could move out instead.
In an interview with Nancy Grace, Nicholas also stated that Kevin never attempted to pick up Lisa’s ashes. The funeral home refused to release them to Nicholas even though she was his daughter’s mother.
Sabrina pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and showed remorse during her trial, “I want to say how sorry I am for all those I hurt. Lisa did not deserve what happened to her. I ask forgiveness be given to me, not for my benefit but for those who need the healing process to begin. I can’t explain how much remorse I have and how much sadness I deal with.” In an interview, Sabrina stated she was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder when she was only four years old. In addition, she suffers from anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression.
Sabrina’s attorney claimed she was ‘emotionally blackmailed’ by Kevin and asked the judge for leniency. Sabrina was found guilty of aggravated murder. Judge Richard L. Collins Jr, who described the crime as ‘gruesome’ and ‘revolting’ sentenced her to life in prison with parole eligibility after 30 years.
Lisa Knoefel was described as a dedicated social worker with an amazing sense of humour. She loved to laugh and to make others laugh alongside her. Her only goal was to love and protect children and she did just that until her very last breath.