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Two sentenced in 2020 Birch Tree murder case


Two Birch Tree men charged with the April 2020 murder of Barbara J. Lynn, 77, also of Birch Tree, have entered guilty pleas and been sentenced, one in Phelps County and the other in Jasper County, both on changes of venue.

Stanley A. Kenaga, 34, pleaded guilty on Friday in Jasper County to first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, stealing $750 or more, second-degree arson and abandonment of a corpse, all felonies. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole on the murder conviction, plus 15 years on the burglary charge, seven years each on the stealing and arson charges, and four years on the charge of abandoning a corpse.

The sentences, to run concurrently, were handed down the same day the pleas were entered by 29th Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Mouton, court records show.

Kenaga was to have stood trial beginning Sept. 11 before 37th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Steven Privette, but it was canceled on July 20 by Privette after Kenaga was granted a change of venue to Jasper County, court records show.

Joseph Proffer, 25, Birch Tree, charged with second-degree murder, first-degree burglary, second-degree arson, abandonment of a corpse and stealing $750 or more, pleaded guilty Monday in Phelps County to second-degree murder and has been sentenced to 25 years in prison by 25th Judicial Circuit Court Judge William E. Hickle.

The charges originated in Shannon County and were moved after a change of venue and change of judge were granted to both defendants by the court. Proffer was to have had a jury trial beginning Oct. 11, but instead entered the plea, public court records show.

He and Kenaga were arrested after Lynn’s body was found by firefighters shortly after 6 a.m. April 2, 2020, in a hallway of her home.

Investigator Robbie L. Sterner with the Missouri Division of Fire Safety responded to the scene, and an autopsy was conducted, with results indicating foul play and that her death had been the result of an assault.

In an interview with Missouri State Highway Patrol Investigator Paul Wells, Kenaga said he knew Lynn had been killed and a fire had been set in the house. Kenaga further stated in an interview with Missouri Division of Fire Safety Investigator John Matney that he and Proffer received information the victim had withdrawn $20,000 from a bank and planned to break into her home, steal the money, and divide it evenly between them.

After walking and driving by the house several times, Kenaga said, the two broke into the house but thought Lynn wasn't home at the time. After finding Lynn in the home after the two had pried open a back door and entered, Kenaga claimed Proffer confronted and killed her by body slamming and strangling her.

The two then allegedly took a laptop computer valued at $500, and Proffer later brought other stolen items to Kenaga's house valued at about $1,200, according to Kenaga, who also blamed Proffer for setting the fire in Lynn's home after she had been killed.

Sterner noted in statements to prosecutors that Kenaga lived in a neighborhood in which there had been several break-ins and house fires over the previous months and that Proffer frequented the same neighborhood.

In statements during the course of the investigation, investigators said, Kenaga admitted he saw Lynn looking out her window at him while he was breaking into a house and storage trailer next to her home, on a couple of different occasions.

Court records show Proffer's charges of second-degree arson, abandonment of a corpse and stealing $750 or more are still on the docket for an Oct. 11 jury trial, also before Hickle, as of Tuesday afternoon.

Court records for those charges show Proffer's attorney is Public Defender Sarah Bernard of West Plains with co-counsel Bethany Hanson, also a public defender.

The murder charge was prosecuted by Prosecuting Attorney William Seay, according to court records, and the remaining cases are being prosecuted by Shannon County Prosecuting Attorney Jodie Barnes.