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Willits man pleads guilty in dragging death of grandfather

  • Kenneth Wilkison (MENDOCINO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

A Willits man on Monday pleaded guilty to first-degree murder rather than face additional charges at trial for dragging his 84-year-old grandfather to death behind his pickup truck.

In exchange for the plea, Mendocino County Assistant District Attorney Paul Sequeira dropped a special allegation of torture against Kenneth Lee Wilkinson, 24.

Wilkinson would have faced life without the possibility of parole had he been convicted of both murder and torture at trial, which was scheduled to begin this week.

Under the plea agreement, he faces 25 years to life in prison, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Wilkinson admitted he dragged his grandfather, Richard “Mel” Wilkinson, behind a pickup truck for six miles, leaving a trail of blood and body parts along the winding mountain road. He then dumped the body into a ravine.

Public Defender Linda Thompson during pre-trial hearings contended that Wilkinson thought his grandfather was dead when he tied him to the truck. She also argued that he was incapable of premeditated murder because he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and suffered from mental disabilities.

Last week, Thompson unsuccessfully sought to have the trial moved out of the county, saying pretrial publicity would make it difficult for Wilkinson to get a fair trial in Mendocino County.

The killing occurred the night of March 17, 2012. Wilkinson was taking care of his grandfather, a retired lumber mill worker who suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

The elder Wilkinson was living with his daughter and son-in-law on 10 acres outside Willits. Kenneth Wilkinson was staying in a trailer on the property.

Steven Tharp, the victim's son-in-law, said the couple had gone out for the evening. When they returned, Mel Wilkinson was gone, Tharp said in 2012.

Kenneth Wilkinson eventually told them he'd taken the elderly man somewhere, but wouldn't say where, Tharp said.

Wilkinson seemed to think he had done them a favor, Tharp said.

Kenneth Wilkinson had drug and alcohol abuse problems and may have been under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of his grandfather's death, Tharp said. It also appeared he had consumed 10 bottles of beer, he said.

Wilkinson was unemployed and had bounced among the homes of different family members in the Willits and Covelo areas, Tharp said. The man had been acting increasingly strange in the last eight months, according to other family members who lived on the Little Lake Valley property.

Wilkinson is scheduled to be sentenced May 9.

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