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CLEVELAND (AP) — A northeast Ohio teenager who said she killed her foster mother in 2012 at the urging of the dead woman's husband was sentenced to life in prison on Monday.
Sabrina Zunich, 19, pleaded guilty last month to aggravated murder in the gruesome stabbing death of Lisa Knoefel, 41, in 2012. The social worker was stabbed and cut more than 150 times with a 10-inch serrated knife, authorities said. Zunich is eligible for parole in 30 years.
The killing occurred around 1:15 a.m. on Nov. 26, 2012. Authorities say Lisa Knoefel's 13-year-old daughter saw her mother fighting for her life during the encounter with Zunich and called 911 in a chilling cry for help. Officers from the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby Hills arrived quickly and found Zunich splattered with blood, still grasping the knife.
Zunich testified against her foster father, Kevin Knoefel, during his trial on charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and sexual battery. Prosecutors said Monday it was unlikely they would have obtained the conviction they won against Kevin Knoefel without Zunich's testimony. A different Lake County judge in August sentenced 44-year-old Knoefel to life in prison with a chance of parole after 30 years.
A tearful Zunich, her wrists manacled in front of her, spoke briefly before being sentenced Monday. She said Lisa Knoefel did not deserve to die.
"I can't explain how much remorse I have, how much sadness," she said.
Zunich's defense attorney, Charles Grieshammer, argued Monday that she should receive the minimum sentence of 20 years to life. Grieshammer said Zunich had overcome a tough family life, substance abuse and mental health issues to get her life and education back on track before she was sent to live with the Knoefels.
"Had she been placed anywhere else, she might have made it," Grieshammer said.
Moving in with the Knoefels in 2011 seemed to make sense. Lisa Knoefel had experience with troubled teens because of her background in social work. She and her husband had hosted foster children before, and there were two younger girls that Zunich could bond with. But the Knoefels had a troubled marriage.
Kevin Knoefel began seducing his foster daughter and by 2012 they were having sex, Zunich testified. Romance led to talk of murder. Zunich testified that the day before the slaying, Kevin Knoefel threatened suicide if his wife was not killed. She said Knoefel even gave her advice on how to fatally stab his wife. He was out of town driving a truck in Michigan when the slaying occurred.
Prosecutors believe money was Kevin Knoefel's biggest motive for having his wife killed. He stood to receive $750,000 in life insurance and the family home if his wife died.