A proposed plea deal that would have allowed an accused killer to retain custody of his 4-year-old son was withdrawn Tuesday after the family of the victim protested.
“We went to court prepared to ask the judge not to accept it and the prosecutor did it himself,” Shelly Rush told The Huffington Post.
Travis Funke, 34, was expected to enter a plea Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Rush’s sister, Kelly Armstrong, 28. But the state abruptly withdrew the plea agreement during a hearing before Howard County Superior Court Judge Brant Parry.
Armstrong disappeared in August 2011. She and Funke lived together with their baby in Kokomo, about 50 miles north of Indianapolis. Funke was arrested on Sept. 28, 2011, on an unrelated warrant, but when authorities interviewed Funke about Armstrong Jan. 6, Funke allegedly told investigators he killed Armstrong around July 1, 2011.
Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann has denied multiple requests for comment from The Huffington Post since the start of the case. According to Rush, McCann had no choice but to withdraw the plea agreement.
“For some reason, the police and prosecutor’s office and the family are unable to communicate,” McCann said during the hearing, according to the Kokomo Tribune. “Because of this, it’s in the best interest of the state to take this to trial.”
The family has claimed that they did not know about the plea deal, which said the state would assist Funke is getting custody of his son upon his release from prison. “[McAnn's] a liar,” Rush said. “He claims he does not understand why my family was against the plea. He should know why. He never told my father or me what was going on. When he did finally talk to my mom he said nothing about child custody being part of the plea agreement.”
Rush said that while her family was surprised by the latest development in the case, Funke, who could have been free in 17 and a half years, appeared dumbfounded by the news.
“He walked in cocky and walked out with his head down,” she said.
According to the case affidavit, Funke said he blacked out during an argument with Armstrong and when he awoke she was dead. He allegedly said he placed her in a trash tote, which was supposedly picked up later that same day. Authorities spent several days searching the Wabash Valley Landfill in Wabash but were unable to locate Armstrong’s remains.
Armstrong’s family has said they do not believe Funke’s version of the events and suspect she was disposed of elsewhere.
In February, Howard County prosecutor Mark McCann charged Funke with voluntary manslaughter.
As part of the proposed plea arrangement, prosecutors had offered to drop two lesser felony charges pending against Funke. The son he and Armstrong had together, who now has cancer, was also listed as an incentive.
“The state of Indiana would agree to cooperate with DFC in an attempt to have the defendant’s child placed with the defendant’s family,” the plea agreement recommends.
Armstrong’s family considered the proposed plea agreement a slap in the face, especially considering family members are trying to get custody of the boy.
“I have filed disciplinary papers against McCann,” Armstrong’s father, David Armstrong, told HuffPost. “He actually perjured himself on the court record because he said he had been in contact with all the victims’ representatives and would not have filed the plea agreement papers if he had not been. That’s bullshit.”
Even though the plea agreement was taken off the table, Armstrong said he wants McCann off the case. “I don’t think he will prosecute it to his full ability because he has not shown that kind of effort so far,” the grieving father said.
Armstrong and Rush have long been critical of the investigation.
According to Armstrong, authorities did nothing when they went to his daughter’s trailer and found blood inside the day after she was reported missing. He said they took no action Oct. 7, 2011, when Funke’s cellmate supposedly told police that Funke admitted killing Armstrong and was “concerned about evidence that could still be in their trailer,” according to the affidavit.
On Nov. 2, 2011, after Kokomo Police Department investigators interviewed another individual who allegedly said Funke admitted he killed Armstrong, police secured a search warrant for the trailer, the affidavit said.
It says detectives found what they believe is the murder weapon — a green-handled hammer. Investigators also located “two large dark stains on the carpet in the south bedroom and two large dark stains on the carpet in the living room.” The stains were collected and tested; police later revealed the stains were a 99.9 percent match for Armstrong’s blood.
Funke’s trial was set for Aug. 21, however his defense team indicated it will request a continuance.
While law enforcement stopped actively searching for Kelly Armstrong, her family continues to hold community searches. People interested in helping search or in donating funds can do so at Operationfindkelly.yolasite.com. The family alsomaintains a Facebook page devoted to the case.
“This is not going away until we bring Kelly home,” David Armstrong said. “Somebody is going to give us the answers we are looking for.”
Armstrong’s father said the proposed plea deal fell apart amid growing media reports, singling out the Huffington Post for being the first national news site report on the issue.
“I think it was a combination of those things,” Armstrong said, referring to the media attention and the families protests.
Armstrong’s cousin, Charity Grable, agreed. “Thanks for making this possible … My family deeply thanks you for your help.”