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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

First Campbell County Murder Case Since Pandemic Ends in Conviction

In the first murder case tried in the Campbell County courts since the start of the pandemic, the verdict was guilty.

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by Robin Gee

In the first murder case tried in Campbell County since the start of the pandemic, John “Will” Allender has been found guilty of the murder of his estranged wife, Cheryl Allender, in 2017. The jury returned the verdict in 70 minutes after a two-week trial in front of Campbell Circuit Judge Dan Zalla. Mike Zimmerman and Kyle Burns prosecuted the case for the Commonwealth. 

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The jury did not believe Allender’s story that he feared for his life. Earlier in the day on April 18, 2017, he filed for an emergency protective order against his wife, but was denied. Later that day, he called 911 to report that he had shot her after she tried to force her way into his room.

Although separated, the couple lived in the same house at 11699 Mary Ingles Highway in Melbourne at the south end of the county. The house had previously been the location of several businesses and so had been divided up allowing for Will Allender to have a room in the house separate from the rest of the family. 

John "Will" Allender III has been found guilty of murdering his estranged wife and mother of their six children.

Story conflicts with evidence

First responders at the scene and detectives researching the matter said the position of Cheryl Allender’s body was not consistent with her husband’s claims. He claimed she had a gun that he had borrowed over the weekend but returned. After a heated argument, he said she had burst into his room to shoot him with that gun.

There was a gun found with her body, but detectives said it appeared the scene had been staged. The four gunshot wounds she suffered and evidence in the walls of the home showed a trajectory that indicated the wife had been shot while trying to leave the room. 

A crime scene expert, Howard Ryan, had been brought in who agreed with detectives that the story given by Allender was “100 percent physically impossible.” 

According to Attorney Mike Zimmerman, one of the prosecutors in the case, "From the moment Cheryl Allender was brutally killed, the defendant’s claim of self-defense was nothing more than an attempt to get away with murder."

Zimmerman praised the police work involved. "The police and crime scene investigators diligently worked the scene and were quickly able to conclude that the defendant‘s version of events was forensically flawed," he said. 

"Because of their hard work and persistence, the Commonwealth was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that on April 18, 2017, Cheryl Allender was viciously gunned down by the defendant; not during an act of self-defense, but in a vicious ambush during which he shot Cheryl four times." 

A quick deliberation by the jury

The jury had four options in this case including whether Allender felt his own life was in jeopardy and using lethal force for self-protection was justified, whether he was operating under a mistaken belief that his life was threatened, whether he acted recklessly in his failure to recognize his mistake or if he intended to shoot his wife. After only about 70 minutes of deliberation, the jury came back with conviction for murder.

The jurors, said Zimmerman, "recognized this crime for what it was: a cold-blooded execution. Our appreciation for their service over the course of the three weeks they served on this case could never be adequately communicated. So while it was the police and the Commonwealth that worked towards this end for four years, in the end it was the jurors who spoke through Cheryl with a verdict and sentencing recommendation that will echo for years to come."

Allender is facing a maximum sentence of 20 to 50 years or life for the murder and an additional one to five years for witness tampering. He had called his mother repeatedly to ask her to explain to his children that it would be best to say nothing at all to prosecutors. He will be sentenced in August.

Some relief for the family

At the time of the murder there were six children living in the home, a blended family that included Cheryl's two children from a previous marriage, three of Will Allender's children from his previous marriage and the couple's only child together. Their ages ranged from six to 14.

"There’s a sense of closure now that the verdict has come back," said Sheri Cramblitt, whose brother had been married to Cheryl Allender previously. "It’s been a long process waiting for the trial itself and very stressful, a lot of worry for the children. They can now have peace with that and can move forward without the stress and worry of expecting it to come."

Cramblitt has custody of the two oldest children. She shared that her sister-in-law had been devastated by the death of her first husband, Cramblitt's brother. She was a young widow with two children when she met Allender online and subsequently married him. She adopted his children by a former marriage.

The oldest child turned 18 in December. Cramblitt said that after the trial, he made a brief statement noting that he had recently graduated high school, but it felt almost insignificant because his mother was not there to share in his accomplishment or in his life over the last four years. 

The younger children are living with their grandparents.

"We are grateful to the prosecution and thank them for all that they did," said Cramblitt. "My husband and I sat through the trial every day. It was amazing how they handled everything. We are grateful on my sister-in-law’s behalf and the family that we got the verdict we got, and justice was served."

Working on the case throughout a pandemic

"Those who loved Cheryl — her children, family, and friends left behind — also rejected the defendant’s lies. For four years, they doggedly sought justice, vindication for Cheryl, and the truth about what was done to her," said Zimmerman. 

"We are thankful and incredibly humbled that they entrusted us to pursue it on their behalf. While it was certainly delayed after battling numerous delays due to a pandemic, we did everything we could to see that justice was ultimately not denied. Hopefully this conviction gives Cheryl’s family some small semblance of that on their long road to healing."

This was the first case prosecuted by Zimmerman as first assistant since taking over for Sheryl Heeter.

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