Kenneth Eugene Parnell, a quiet, 48-year old ex-convict once described by a prison psychiatrist as a "sexual psychopath," pleaded innocent this morning to a charge of kidnaping a 5-year old boy from the streets of Ukiah Feb. 14.
Ukaih Justice Court Judge James Luther scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 13, after approving an increase in bail from $7,000 to $20,000. Luther also approved a request by Public Defender Scott LeStrange, Parnell's attorney, for a gag order in the case. Parnell could not make bail and was held in county jail.
Parnell was quiet and attentive throughout his first public appearance since his arrest early Sunday morning. Luther's gag order prohibited any photographs of the man, who allegedly had also taken a 7-year-old boy in 1972 in Merced under circumstances similar to those under which Timmy Lee White disappeared Feb. 14.
Handed a copy of the charge against him, Parnell carefully followed along as Luther read it aloud. Parnell did not speak at any time in the proceeding.
Parnell was charged today with one count of kidnapping, specifically the abduction of the White boy. The case of Steve Stayner, taken allegedly by Parnell in Merced County seven years ago, has already led to some complicated legal questions.
Mendocino County District Attorney Joe Allen said the California statue of limitations made it "highly doubtful" that Parnell would be prosecuted in the seven-year-old case.
"If charges regarding [the Stayner youth, now 14] are going to be pressed," he said, "they will probably be done by me in Mendocino County under Section 278 of the [California] Penal Code."
Section 278 treats with the concealment or detention of a child from a rightful parent or guardian, and carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison. "It does not require forcible taking of a child," Allen said, adding that he felt he had enough evidence that Steven Stayner had been held in Mendocino County to warrant the addition of the charge to the White kidnaping.
However, he added, he has spoken to the Merced County district attorney, and will make no decision on such charges until the other prosecutor is clear on his county's legal position in the case.
Merced County District Attorney Pat Hallford told reporters that he will begin a kidnap case in his county. "We may eventually combine the two cases and have both trials in one county," Hallford said. "But for now we'll file separate charges here in Merced and transport him down here for court appearances."
With Timmy White and Steve Stayner safe and unharmed at home, the focus of the bizarre double kidnapping story is shifting to the man who is accused of the twin crimes. He is known to Timmy as Ken and to young Steve Stayner as Dad.
Parnell, who apparently was living with Steve in a remote one-room cabin in the mountains outside of Manchester, had been working as a night auditor for the Palace Hotel in Ukiah for the past four months, commuting the same 70 miles to and from the cabin that Steve and Timmy traveled Saturday evening, ending up at the Ukiah police station.
Parnell allegedly picked up Steven then 7, as the boy was walking home from school in Merced in 1972. They stayed briefly in a cabin outside of town, where Steven was told that his mother didn't want him and the court had given him to Parnell.
They reportedly moved to Yosemite National Park for a time, then headed north to Santa Rosa, and eventually into Mendocino County, ending up 10 months ago in the Manchester cabin.
Described by his mother, Mary Parnell, of Bakersfield, as "an honest fellow," Parnell nonetheless has a history of criminal offenses, including a 1951 conviction in a child-stealing and sexual assualt case that resulted in a three-year term in San Quentin, a subsequent parole violation, an earlier charge of grand larceny, and a conviction in 1961 in Utah on a charge of armed robbery, for which he served six years of a five years-to-life sentence.
Sometime after the 1951 trouble in Bakersfield -- he pleaded guilty to abducting an 8-year-old boy and commiting "an infamous crime against nature" in a remote canyon -- Parnell married his childhood sweetheart.
The couple had a daughter, but the marriage broke up when Parnell's wife found another man, and eventually he was barred from seeing the child.
His mother said her son loves children and animals, that he had missed his daughter a great deal and that she thought he wanted a family.