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Vashon resident pleads guilty to second-degree murder

Just as jury selection was set to begin, Islander Jon Kunkel on Wednesday pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the slaying of Ron Childers nearly three years ago.

King County prosecutors had charged Kunkel with first-degree murder and were seeking to put him behind bars for 25 years. Second-degree murder carries a sentence of 10 to 18 years. Prosecutors will ask King County Superior Court Judge Helen Halpert to hand down a 15-year sentence.

Sentencing is set for March 26.

Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said prosecutors accepted the plea-agreement because they had some "evidentiary concerns."

"We believe it's a long prison sentence; 15 years is a long sentence recommendation," he added.

Diana Childers, Ron Childers' widow, said she was prepared to go to trial and face Kunkel but was still pleased that the man who gunned down her husband will serve time in prison.

"He admitted that he did it, and that means more to me than any amount of time. He said he did it," Childers said.

Childers, who had just received a call from the prosecutors' office about the plea agreement, added, "I feel kind of shell-shocked right now."

Others close to the situation, however, said they believe Kunkel, 25, a property owner on Vashon who ran a landscaping business, should spend much more time in prison. Kunkel has been in jail and awaiting trial since his arrest for Childers' murder in December 2007. According to the prosecutor's office, the two-and-a-half years he's sat in jail will count towards his prison term.

Dave McCoy, who knew Kunkel well and was one of his housemates, said he was disappointed that Kunkel could get out in 10 to 12 years.

"The outcome is that he's still going to prison. Too bad it couldn't have been longer," he said.

Kunkel shot Childers three times with a 12-gauge shotgun in the home Kunkel owned on 87th Avenue S.W., which Kunkel shared with several other people. Kunkel said at the time that Childers was coming at him with a sword and that he shot him in self-defense.

Prosecutors, however, said the slaying was premeditated and occurred because of Kunkel's mounting anger over money Childers owed him. Childers, a handyman and landscaper, lived in another house Kunkel owned on Vashon but had fallen behind in rent.

According to court papers, Childers agreed to work off his rent by painting and building a fence around one of Kunkel’s houses. Meanwhile, Kunkel agreed to sell him a van for $3,800 — again with Childers working for Kunkel in lieu of payment. And again, documents say, Childers failed to follow through.

On Aug. 19, 2007, Childers came to Kunkel’s home and the two sat down in Kunkel’s bedroom to discuss the debt. Childers was unarmed, court documents say, while Kunkel’s loaded 12-gauge shotgun was within arm’s reach, concealed behind a piano. Around 7:15 p.m., tenants said they heard three shots. One of them rushed into Kunkel's room and found Childers dead.

Diana Childers said the sentencing hearing will give her a chance to face Kunkel and to tell the judge the impact her husband's death has had on her and other family members. The two had been married one week shy of a year when Ron Childers was killed.

"I've been waiting for this for two-and-a-half years — waiting for him to hear what he's done, not just to myself, not just to Ron's family, but to the people of Vashon," Childers said. "It's my turn."

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