Kavanagh murder trial set to begin next week

Adam Rollins, Staff Writer
Posted 3/9/23

Nine years ago, on Feb. 14, 2014, Shawn Kavanagh of Bellflower was arrested for the killing of two women, Tara Lynn Fifer and Lexy Vandiver, and 7-year-old Mason Vandiver, as well as the severe …

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Kavanagh murder trial set to begin next week


Nine years ago, on Feb. 14, 2014, Shawn Kavanagh of Bellflower was arrested for the killing of two women, Tara Lynn Fifer and Lexy Vandiver, and 7-year-old Mason Vandiver, as well as the severe wounding of Jessica N. Powell, at a home south of Jonesburg in Warren County.

Next week, Kavanagh may finally be brought to trial for the charges that have kept him in jail for nearly a decade, while families of the victims have waited for a verdict. He is scheduled to be tried by a St. Charles County Judge beginning on March 13, in a proceeding that will include whether Kavanagh should be sentenced to death if he is found guilty.

Kavanagh, 32, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree domestic assault, one count of burglary, and four counts of armed criminal action.

Kavanagh is accused of committing the crimes at a home off of Highway Y south of Jonesburg, where his estranged wife, Jessica Powell, was staying with coworker Lexy Vandiver and her two children. Tara Fifer, another coworker, had come to visit shortly before Kavanagh arrived. The three women worked together at the New Florence Care Center.

Kavanagh reportedly arrived at the home at 7:45 p.m. seeking Powell. When he was told to leave, he allegedly retrieved a knife from his vehicle and began attacking the people in the home.

At 7:51 p.m., Kavanagh called 911 and reported that he had just stabbed and killed several people, according to the Warren County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies arrived to find Kavanagh covered in blood, and said that he verbally admitted to killing the people inside the home.

Lexy Vandiver and Tara Fifer were found dead inside the home. Powell was found with multiple stab wounds, and was airlifted to a hospital for lifesaving surgery.

Mason Vandiver, a first-grader at Warrior Ridge Elementary School,  was rushed to a hospital in St. Louis for treatment of multiple severe wounds, but died that night.

The only victim unharmed in the attack was Lexy Vandiver’s 18-month-old daughter. 

Numerous delays

The prosecutors on the case are Warren County Prosecuting Attorney Kelly King and Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner. The prosecutors have been pushing for Kavanagh to go to trial for the better part of six years.

Kavanagh is being represented by attorneys from a specialized division of the Missouri Public Defender System that focuses on capital punishment cases. The defense attorneys have been granted years of postponements following a variety of different difficulties.

The COVID pandemic caused the trial to be postponed multiple times over concerns about whether a jury pool could be safely assembled at the St. Charles County Court where the trial is set to take place. But even before then, numerous postponements were granted to Kavanagh’s public defenders because of attorney turnover, medical conditions, and other unusual circumstances. 

Upon each request for postponement, attorneys cited Kavanagh’s constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, the denial of which could be grounds for appealing conviction. With every postponement, the clock on Kavanagh’s trial date was reset by long stretches of time.

This is the closest the case has come to trial since Kavanagh’s then-lead attorney contracted a severe stomach ailment just before trial was set to begin in September 2018.

The trial that’s now set to begin on Monday will not have a jury. Kavanagh waived his right to a jury last month, and is instead asking for a “bench trial,” in which the judge is the sole decider of the case. 

That will leave Kavanagh’s fate in the hands of St. Charles County Judge Rebeca Navarro-McKelvey, who has been overseeing the case since 2021. The trial is set to take place over seven days at the St. Charles County Courthouse.

Murder, Shawn Kavanagh