Jury recommends death sentence in Ohio prison pen-pal double-murders
Jurors on Tuesday recommended that Thomas Knuff be executed for fatally stabbing his former prison pen-pal and the man she lived with
By Cory Shaffer
Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Jurors on Tuesday recommended that Thomas Knuff be executed for fatally stabbing his former prison pen-pal and the man she lived with, then trying to hire a man to set fire to the home that housed their decaying bodies.
The same jury that last month convicted Knuff of charges including aggravated murder that made him eligible for the death penalty took about three hours to determine that he should pay the ultimate penalty for the April 2017 crime spree that left John Mann and Regina Capobianco dead.
Common Pleas Court Judge Dena Calabrese, who presided over the six-week trial, will sentence Knuff in August. Calabrese can either accept the jury’s recommendation and impose a death sentence on Knuff, or sentence him to life in prison.
Knuff befriended Capobianco through an inmate-to-inmate pen-pal program in the 2000s and moved in with her and Mann on Nelwood Road in Parma Heights in April 2017 when he was released on parole, after serving 15 years for an aggravated robbery conviction.
Capobianco’s felony record meant that she and Knuff could not both stay in the same house, and prosecutors contended at trial that the two got into an argument after Mann chose to keep Capobianco in the house over Knuff. Knuff stabbed her to death and then killed Mann during the argument, prosecutors said.
Capobianco was stabbed six times, and Mann was stabbed 15 times, a pathologist from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office testified.
Knuff and his lawyers maintained that he acted in self-defense after he stumbled upon Capobianco stabbing Mann. Knuff took the knife from her and tried to tend to Mann, but Capobianco grabbed another knife from the kitchen and attacked Knuff, cutting his finger, his lawyers said. Knuff killed Capobianco in self-defense, and Mann died from the injuries inflicted by Capobianco, his lawyers said.
Knuff sought to cover up the killings because he feared he would go back to prison for a parole violation, even though he acted in self-defense, his lawyers said.
In the weeks that followed, Knuff came up with several different cover stories to explain his injury and why he needed a new place to stay, prosecutors say. He told his girlfriend, Alicia Stoner, that he cut his finger in a bar fight, and told his son that a group of black drug dealers broke into the house and attacked him, Mann and Capobianco. He went to a Medina County hospital when his finger became and infected, and told the nurse that he stabbed two people in self-defense, prosecutors said.
Knuff eventually confided to Stoner that he had killed someone and needed to dispose of a body, and asked her to buy him power tools. He told her that he planned to cut them up like title character from the Showtime serial-killer series “Dexter” so police couldn’t find evidence on their fingertips, prosecutors said. He never made good on the plan.
Stoner, a former prison social worker who met Knuff while he was locked up the in Trumbull County Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty last year to charges that accused her of helping Knuff to dispose of the bodies and was sentenced to probation.
Knuff broke into two beauty stores and stole cash from the registers. He was arrested on June 13, 2017 in the break-ins, more than a week before police knew Mann and Capobianco were dead.
Knuff escalated his cover-up scheme after his arrest. He wrote to Robert De Lugo from jail, asking him in great detail to burn down the house, starting in the bedroom with “the most incriminating s—t,” which prosecutors said was a reference to the decaying bodies of Mann and Capobianco. He also directed Stoner to pay De Lugo and buy materials to help start the fire, prosecutors said.
De Lugo did not follow through with the plan.
While all this occurred, Parma Heights police had still not found the bodies of Capobianco and Mann.
Capobianco’s relatives reported her missing in the days after the killing, but Parma Heights police officers never tried to enter the home. They interviewed Knuff, who lied and said he believed the two had gone to stay with friends in Canton, prosecutors said.
Neighbors called police weeks after the killings to report a smell of rotting meat emanating in the neighborhood, and officers entered the home and found raw meat that had been left on the kitchen table, prosecutors said. Officers assumed the smell came from the meat and disposed of it, then left the house without searching any of the other rooms.
Police eventually went back into the house on June 21, and a detective discovered Capobianco’s skull buried under debris in the bedroom, prosecutors said. Authorities then found Mann’s body within minutes, and launched a homicide investigation.
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