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Troopers: 19-year-old charged with murder in Wasilla stabbing of foster mother

Zaz Hollander
Kenneth Adams, 19, participates in a televised court hearing Tuesday afternoon, July 22, 2014, at the Palmer courthouse after Alaska State Troopers accused him of stabbing his foster mother to death early Monday. Magistrate Judge Craig Condie arraigned Adams on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder and first-degree arson. Zaz Hollander / Alaska Dispatch News

WASILLA -- Alaska State Troopers say a 19-year-old man stabbed his 66-year-old foster mother to death with a steak knife during a brief struggle early Monday after he'd set a fire in the residence they shared near Wasilla.

Troopers responded to Mollie Ragonesi’s dying call for help at 5:18 a.m. Monday, according to court documents. They say Ragonesi was apparently stabbed in the neck by foster son Kenneth Adams after getting involved in an altercation between Adams and another man in the home. 

“Mollie was able to leave the room and call 911 before she finally collapsed on the kitchen floor,” Trooper Andrew Adams wrote in a sworn affidavit filed at the Palmer courthouse Tuesday.

The suspect appeared Tuesday afternoon in a bizarre video arraignment from Mat-Su Pretrial Facility wearing what appeared to be a sleeveless blue anti-suicide smock. Adams was sitting in a chair and seemed unaware the courtroom could hear him.

“What makes us diseased?” he asked a nearby trooper as the video feed started. 

A public defender appointed to represent Adams by Magistrate Judge Craig Condie entered a not guilty plea to initial charges of second-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder and arson. Condie ordered that Adams continue to be held on $500,000 bail and released only to a court-appointed third-party custodian.

‘In the chaos ...’

Ragonesi was difficult to understand during her Monday morning 911 call but told emergency dispatchers that “ ‘he’ tried to burn the house down before the line was disconnected,” Trooper Adams wrote. Dispatchers called back. A man answered and said “the ‘foster kid’ ” had stabbed Ragonesi, the affidavit says. Another man could be heard saying that two people were stabbed.

Troopers arrived at the Pioneer Peak Drive address to find Ragonesi, her foster son Adams, James Springer and Daniel Ramsey inside, the affidavit says. The partial trailer home is in the dense Williwaw subdivision off Bogard Road a few miles northeast of Wasilla. 

Troopers provided a chilling narrative of the incident: Kenneth Adams, who was “contemplating suicide” in the back of the residence, started a fire in the lower part of a furnace in his bedroom. Ragonesi smelled something burning and went to investigate, then told Ramsey to get a fire extinguisher and help put out the fire. Adams pushed the bedroom door closed on Ragonesi and told them to stay out. 

“Daniel was able to force the door open, where a physical altercation ensued between Daniel and Kenneth. Kenneth stabbed Daniel several times with a kitchen steak knife he had,” a responding trooper wrote in his affidavit. “In the chaos Mollie was also stabbed at least once in the neck.”

As Ragonesi fled the room to call 911, Adams began strangling Ramsey, according to the affidavit. Ramsey managed to break the blade off the knife. Springer entered the room and pulled Adams off Ramsey. 

Ramsey too made it to the kitchen before collapsing onto the floor, the trooper said. He was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center in critical condition Monday. A hospital spokesman described his condition as serious on Tuesday. 

Adams was still in the home when troopers arrived, and he cooperated with them during the arrest, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. 

Ramsey, 57, was in the residence because he was Ragonesi’s friend, Peters said. Springer, in his mid-20s, was a guest. 

Foster history

Lori Benner met Ragonesi about 20 years ago when their sons were in grade school together.

Benner said her friend took in many foster children over the years and many returned to visit after starting their adult lives. She cared for her brother during his battle with cancer, Benner said. Ragonesi also cared for Benner during a four-month post-surgery recovery.

“Mollie was unique, very caring and had all kinds of wonderfully crazy ideas she dreamed of pursuing,” Benner said in a message Tuesday. 

A spokeswoman for the state Office of Children’s Services -- Adams was still a ward of the state -- did not return a call for information in time for this story. It wasn’t immediately clear how many children Ragonesi fostered over the years or whether she had special training to deal with disturbed children. 

Guardianship case remains open

Adams was involved in a confidential state guardianship case filed last year, a state courts database shows. None of the attorneys involved in Tuesday’s hearing -- including a Palmer assistant district attorney and the attorney contracted for the guardianship case -- could say whether the guardianship case involved Ragonesi. Guardianship cases are closed to the public.  

The case remains open, a state courts database indicates. The next hearing was scheduled for late September.

Magistrate Condie said he was familiar with Adams from the separate guardianship case over which he is presiding. 

“I have serious concerns about his ability to represent himself in this matter,” Condie said. 

Asked whether he wanted to hire a lawyer or have a public defender appointed, Adams told the magistrate he could afford his own lawyer with the Permanent Fund dividend checks he’d saved, a contention Condie called “overly optimistic.” 

Everything Adams said during the video arraignment was audible in the courtroom, where media outnumbered anybody else. At one point he interrupted Condie as the magistrate made some procedural changes to the charges, saying, “I didn’t know that I did such a thing” and “There wasn’t multiple people.” 

At the start of the video feed, Adams was in the midst of what sounded like a rambling, one-sided conversation with troopers in the room with him. 

“Yes, there’s emotion, that we understand, but at the same time you want more power,” he said before being shushed by one of the troopers.

Contact Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com.