Shawn Kavanagh Death Penalty Trial Begins for 2014 Murder of 2 Women, 1 Child After Nearly a Decade of Delays

Shawn Kavanagh has been behind bars since the 2014 killings pending trial.
Shawn Kavanagh has been behind bars since the 2014 killings pending trial.Handout

The bench trial of Shawn Kavanagh, of Bellflower, Missouri, is finally underway after countless postponements, including for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly a decade after the gruesome killings of two women and a 7-year-old boy, the death penalty trial for the Missouri man accused of their murders is finally underway.

Shawn Kavanagh, 32, of Bellflower, told authorities he was intending to spend Valentine’s Day with his estranged wife, Jessica Powell, in 2014 when he allegedly killed Lexy Vandiver, a 29-year-old coworker, and her 7-year-old son, Mason Vandiver, along with their other coworker, 22-year-old Tara Lynn Fifer, who happened to be at the home that evening,

Powell, who was severely injured but survived the night of the killings, delivered her testimony as the trial opened Monday. She said in court Monday that after Kavanagh allegedly stabbed her in the chest, he asked her, “How does it feel to be stabbed in the heart?” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

She said during her testimony that they met in September 2012 and got married seven months later, but Kavanagh became violent and jealous soon after. Kavanagh had a fascination with swords and knives and had a large collection of weapons, and had punched walls and broke furniture during the course of their relationship.

A month before the killings, Powell called 911 after Kavanagh became violent during a fight, and he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic assault, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Despite being ordered not to contact his wife and having moved out of their home, the pair continued to text, call and see each other, according to phone records presented in court, and Powell agreed to meet him on Valentine’s Day.

Instead, Powell met her coworkers Vandiver and Fifer and planned to go to the casino that evening, according to her testimony. The three women, who worked as nursing assistants, met at Vandiver’s trailer home and Kavanagh arrived unexpected at around 7:45 p.m. that evening, according to the Warren County Record.

He was told to leave, but allegedly retrieved a knife from his vehicle and attacked the women, killing Fifer, Vandiver and her son, and wounding Powell, the Warren County Record reported.

At 7:51 p.m., Kavanagh called 911 and allegedly reported stabbing and killing several people, and when authorities with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department arrived to the scene, they said they found Kavanagh covered in blood before he verbally admitted to killing the people inside the home, the Warren County Record reported.

Vandiver’s 18-month-old daughter, Jeanette, was the only victim left unharmed that evening, according to the Warren County Record.

Kavanagh has been behind bars since the 2014 murders, but countless postponements since his initial arrest date, including for complications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, have delayed the victims’ families’ pursuit of justice.

While Kavanagh’s attorneys say he is guilty in the deaths, they say he should not be charged with first-degree murder and face the death penalty but instead be charged with second-degree murder because “he was unable to comprehend what he was doing,” and their deaths were not premeditated, the defense argued, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Kavanagh opted out of a jury trial and is now sitting for a bench trial, meaning the judge will decide the outcome of the case.

This is the second death penalty trial within the last year in St. Charles County court, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Kavanagh's public defenders have not responded to Inside Edition Digital's request for comment.

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