Several Boiseans interacted with Timmy Earl Kinner Jr. in the weeks before he was accused of going on a murderous rampage at a 3-year-old’s birthday party.
As he sought meals at local shelters and worked to get school transcripts, his behavior seemed normal, they told the Statesman. And they were unaware of the 30-year-old homeless man’s erratic, violent criminal history in Memphis, Tennessee — or what that might portend.
Kinner is a habitual offender, charged with one or more new crimes almost every year since he was 18. Mostly misdemeanors, his past charges include assaulting a relative with a knife and shooting a man during an alleged robbery. Boise is the first place he’s been accused of a murder, according to a Statesman review of his criminal record.
His crimes, while serious, did not capture the attention of police or prosecutors in his hometown. A look at violent crime in Memphis, and it’s not hard to see why: Memphis hit a record high 228 homicides in 2016, with 18 ruled as justified, The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
Boise had seven homicides in 2016, according to police.
Kinner’s mental health also came into question long before he arrived in Boise, as did signs of drug use. A judge was asked in 2009 to send him through anger management training and substance abuse treatment, and his mental competency was evaluated in 2012, Tennessee and federal court records show. In one filing, a defense attorney described a complicated, abusive childhood that may still affect Kinner today.
Kinner got several breaks that reduced his previous time behind bars. Those included an early release from prison, a suspended sentence and a victim who declined to press charges.
Was there a failure in the system in the years before Kinner reached Boise?
“I guess the answer to that is yes, because he continued to victimize people,” said Amy Weirich, district attorney general for Shelby County, Tennessee, after reviewing records compiled by the Statesman. “Now, who you lay the failure at the feet of is the $64 million question.
“At some point, you’ve got to start asking the question: When do we blame the defendant? It’s real easy to say: ‘Did the prosecutor mess up? Did law enforcement mess up? Did the school system mess up? Did [Tennessee children’s services] mess up?’ But at some point, he’s got to be held accountable.”
His attitude in Boise was ‘upbeat’
Kinner most recently served a year and a half in federal prison in Kentucky. It’s unclear why, but soon after his release last February he decided to move west. In April, he was arrested for theft in St. George, Utah, and pleaded “no contest” to stealing a man’s wallet. Shortly after that, he was in Boise.
Why Boise? That’s unclear. But his family told Memphis media that he had first gone to California to look for a job, and not finding one decided to look in Idaho.
“That’s an awfully big jump for a kid from [Memphis neighborhood] Orange Mound,” Weirich said. “You’ve been in prison. How do you all of the sudden get the money to go to California?”
Those who met Kinner in Boise used the same words to describe him: polite and friendly. He came for meals, bus passes and other resources at the Corpus Christi House day shelter on Americana Boulevard once or twice a week in late May and June, and sought overnight shelter for a week or two at Interfaith Sanctuary, shelter officials said.
In late May, he asked a College of Western Idaho tutor working at Corpus Christi House for help in obtaining his GED records from the Kentucky prison where he was incarcerated in 2017. Karen Parkinson, who is no longer with CWI, said she got those records for him. She said that he told her he had recently acquired a bicycle, and he appeared “upbeat.”
“He seemed to be a reasonable guy,” said Rick Bollman, who manages Corpus Christi House. “He didn’t ever seem to fly off the handle or get upset or angry ... He was always a ‘yes sir, no sir’ kind of guy.”
Marc Schlegel-Preheim, pastor at Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship, had a few very brief interactions with Kinner as he was coming or going from Corpus Christi House.
Schlegel-Preheim said Kinner seemed almost “overly nice” and respectful, which he decided was much preferable to the alternative. “Hey, if that’s how you’re being in our shelter, we’ll take it.”
Boise police have declined to say whether Kinner tested positive for drugs on the day of the stabbing. But some who met him believe drugs were a factor that day because they had otherwise found him so mild-mannered. Those who work with the homeless said there was a concern over the summer about a new, unidentified drug, or people possibly having bad reactions to fentanyl, bath salts or other drugs.
“I would say this summer was one of the most violent summers, maybe ever,” said Dan Ault, shelter director for Interfaith Sanctuary, noting two people were stabbed outside the shelter doors. “Cooper Court has more drug use than we’d all like to admit. This summer it’s created a lot of violent behavior in this population.”
Interfaith now uses a wand to check people for weapons at the door.
“It sucks. It has changed our shelter,” he said. “It’s not this inviting shelter that we had.”
He told police he was ‘ambushed’ before stabbing
Court documents describe a far different Kinner speaking to police near the scene of the June 30 stabbings.
Held at gunpoint, Kinner “spontaneously made certain statements suggesting that he had not wanted to hurt any children but that he had been ‘crowded’ and ‘ambushed’ prior to the stabbing,” prosecutors wrote.
The mass stabbing at the Wylie Street Station Apartments left the largest number of victims that the Boise Police Department has ever seen. Nine people were stabbed and slashed, including six children. Ruya Kadir, who was celebrating her 3rd birthday, died two days later. The victims were refugees from Ethiopia, Iraq and Syria. Many had fled violence in those countries.
Witnesses at the apartments on Wylie Lane identified Kinner as the suspect. They told police they saw him make a throwing motion toward a canal along State Street as he fled, according to court documents. Police found a knife in the canal.
Kinner was charged with first-degree murder in Kadir’s death. If convicted, he faces the death penalty. He faces a dozen other charges, including eight counts of felony aggravated battery in connection with the surviving victims’ life-changing injuries.
Investigators said they believe Kinner’s motive for the stabbing was revenge for being kicked out of an apartment where he had been an invited guest. A woman had asked him to leave the day before due to his behavior.
Troubled early life in Memphis
Memphis, a city of about 652,000, is known for its barbecue, music and Elvis’ Graceland mansion. It also ranks as the third most violent of the largest 50 cities in the country, behind only Baltimore and Detroit, DailyMemphian.com reported in October.
Here’s what that looks like: Nine people were shot in one weekend this past June, and four of those people died, USA Today reported. The victim of a Sept. 27 murder was the 64-year-old president/CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. Philip H. Trenary was shot to death during a robbery downtown.
Kinner’s criminal record in Memphis dates back to 2000, when he was about 12 years old. He was charged with aggravated burglary, according to Shelby County juvenile court records. Two years later, he was charged with aggravated assault for slashing a cousin with a knife. In a description of that incident filed in federal court in 2009, public defenders wrote that Kinner’s cousin was trying to discipline him and choked him before the slashing.
That same public defenders’ filing states Kinner and his two siblings were largely raised by his paternal aunt, Betty Kinner, along with his father, Timmy Kinner Sr., and grandmother, Retha Kinner. He was moved there at nearly age 3 after state investigators found him and his siblings living in a storage shed without a bathroom or utilities, abandoned for days by his drug-addicted mother, Deborah Hull, the filing states.
Kinner’s misconduct at home and school, including truancy and breaking into a house, landed him in state custody and foster care at times. He eventually dropped out of high school. And in 2005, he left his aunt’s home for good, court records show.
“Betty Kinner told the Juvenile Court officer that she did not want Timmy anymore; Timmy stated that both his mother and father were on drugs, and that after the aggravated assault charge on cousin Walter, Walter had continuously made his life difficult and that was why he left,” the public defenders’ filing said.
On a Saturday afternoon in late October, several of Kinner’s family members gathered at a small house on Brooklyn Avenue in southeast Memphis. The house is in the historic Orange Mound neighborhood, a place with significant history for African Americans, but that area is faced with modern challenges with poverty, drug use and violence, according to public broadcaster WKNO and BlackPast.org.
Kinner’s grandmother, Retha, smoked a cigarette and talked on the phone inside a tiny, dimly lit kitchen. Retha had previously spoken about her grandson with journalists who had called or come to the house. But she declined to talk to an Idaho reporter and Memphis-based photographer. The 85-year-old said repeatedly that “they” told her not to talk to anybody, referring to Kinner’s team of Ada County public defenders. Others at the home declined comment as well.
Timmy Kinner listed the house on Brooklyn Avenue as his home address on some documents, but it’s unclear if he ever lived there as a child or adult. His father, who has the same name, has also been in trouble with the law; his mother’s whereabouts are a mystery. Other relatives with criminal records include uncle Floyd Kinner, a sex offender with a 1977 rape conviction.
The Statesman tried to talk to two people who are Kinner’s Facebook friends. One reached at her home said she did not know him, while another did not respond to a request for comment. Attempts to reach Kinner’s father at several different addresses in Memphis were unsuccessful. A woman at his Aunt Betty’s home on Graceland Drive said the family had no comment.
His criminal record grows
Timmy Kinner’s first arrests as an adult were for unlawful possession of a weapon: He was caught carrying a gun on two separate occasions in 2006.
The first time, Kinner was given credit for 12 days in jail. The second time, he was sentenced to nearly a year in the Shelby County Correctional Center, a county-run prison, and served about six months of that, court records show.
His crimes escalated from there. He was caught driving a stolen car and cited for marijuana possession.
In early 2008, Kinner fled a traffic stop, ran into a house and, according to prosecutors, refused to let two men in the house leave. While in the house, he hid nine bags of marijuana in a garbage can. Police said he had a stolen handgun. His charges eventually moved to federal court, and he was incarcerated in federal prison until December 2011, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons records.
Later that same December, he was accused of felony sexual battery after a woman reported being pushed up against a building and fondled through her clothing; she was able to escape and get help. He was sentenced to 6 months in the county prison, where he committed two more crimes: he attacked an inmate with a razor, and he inappropriately touched a nurse.
He was released from the county prison in May 2013 — and by late December was charged with a violent crime.
On the last day of 2013, Kinner exchanged gunfire with a resident he was accused of robbing. That case was not prosecuted: “[The] victim apparently did not wish to cooperate. He was subpoenaed for the preliminary hearing and our victim/witness coordinator made several phone calls and left messages, but got no response,” said Lawrence “Larry” Buser, a spokesman for the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office. “The case could not go forward without the victim so the judge dismissed the case.”
At various points, Kinner drew more charges for his actions in jail or prison: exposing himself and throwing urine into the face of a person who told him there was no extra lunch food. In mid-2015, out on release, he was arrested after weaving in and out of traffic on his bicycle while carrying a gun stolen in a home burglary, five bags of marijuana and 10 Xanax pills. He was charged with three felonies and four misdemeanors.
In May 2016, Kinner was sentenced to two years in prison. That time was split with federal probation violations, however, and he spent most of it in federal custody at the prison in Kentucky. He was released in February of this year.
His life doesn’t appear to have gone as the public defenders hoped for in 2009, when they urged the judge “to fashion a program of supervision that can save a young man while he still can be saved.”
Weirich, who has been county district attorney since 2011, has a reputation for being an aggressive prosecutor — some say too aggressive. A Harvard Law School study of appellate court decisions in four states found her to be the most “overzealous” of the prosecutors studied. Weirich told the Tennessee Bar Association that the report was “a grossly inaccurate and incomplete account of these cases as seen through the eyes of a defense advocacy group,” the bar association’s law blog reported.
She was frank with the Statesman about the level of Kinner’s past charges.
“None of what he has been convicted of under our sentencing laws would have interrupted him to any great length of time,” Weirich said. “None of these are life-in-prison crimes. But you hope, I mean everything we do, everything this office does, is geared toward making sure this individual doesn’t come back into the system.”
‘I have not been provided with adequate mental health treatment’
Acting as his own attorney, Kinner filed four federal lawsuits against Tennessee prison officials, three in 2013 and one in 2015. All were dismissed.
On each of the six pages of his 2015 lawsuit against staff at the Shelby County Division of Correction, Kinner penned two words in all caps: “IMMINENT DANGER.”
He demanded $100 million in cash “from the bank” for his suffering due to alleged misconduct by prison guards and others at the Shelby County Correctional Center. He listed a dozen people who he said wronged him, including personnel from numerous departments, including the law library and food service.
Some of his allegations were serious — assault by guards and repeated use of pepper spray on him. He also complained about how terrible the food was. And, he raised the issue of his mental health, including a reference to a suicide attempt in December 2014.
“During my time here at SCCC, I have not been provided with adequate mental health treatment,” he wrote. “Mental health nurses and doctors were informed of my mental state at various times. They failed to properly treat me. I feel like I was experimented on because I was given all types of different medicines, however, none of them help with my symptoms I suffered from.”
In 2012, a clinical psychologist was asked to assess Kinner’s fitness to stand trial for alleged aggravated assault in connection with the razor attack on an inmate at the county prison.
“Even though he suffers from mental illness, I have concluded that he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him,” clinical psychologist Wyatt L. Nichols wrote in a letter to Judge Loyce Lambert Ryan.
Nichols also determined that “severe mental disease or defect did not prevent the defendant from appreciating the nature and wrongfulness of such acts.”
In the Boise murder case, Kinner’s team of Ada County public defenders told District Court Judge Nancy Baskin that they do not believe he is competent to aid in his own defense. At a hearing in September, they said he has paranoid delusions and his behavior vacillates between normal and bizarre, making it hard to communicate with him. They noted that when he was in California earlier this year, he entered a hospital ER; he had wet himself and was complaining to hospital staff that someone was trying to kill him.
A court-appointed psychologist had difficulty conducting a mental evaluation of Kinner, so Baskin appointed a psychiatrist to work with him on their assessment. Their report has not been made public. But, Kinner lead attorney David Smethers indicated at a hearing in early December that Kinner was determined to be incompetent — a finding that prosecutors said they plan to challenge.
Due to conflicts in witnesses’ and experts’ schedules, Baskin set two hearing dates to discuss Kinner’s competency: Dec. 27 and Jan. 3. She ruled that those hearings will be closed to the public, except for a handful of people, including the victims. After the hearings, she will make a decision on whether Kinner needs to be committed to a state hospital for treatment before he can stand trial.
Utah public defender Michael Lastowski represented Kinner in the theft case this April. He told the Statesman he saw no sign that Kinner had mental health issues and had no concerns about Kinner’s competency. If he had seen any deficiency, he would have filed a petition for a competency evaluation, he said.
“From what I remember, he wanted this thing over and done with as fast as possible. It went pretty quick,” Lastowski said, noting that Kinner pleaded “no contest” and the case was resolved in three days. “He wanted to be in and out, and get the hell out of Dodge is what I got from it.”