Five months after the family of young Indiana mother Kelly Armstrong filed a missing persons report, her boyfriend allegedly confessed to bludgeoning her with a hammer. Travis Funke told investigators that he remembers dreaming about the attack, in which he used the mallet to assault Kelly Armstrong. Later, according to Funke’s statement, he discarded her in the trash.
Funke has been charged with voluntary manslaughter.
Armstrong’s family is outraged by the reduced charges, claiming that Funke should have been charged with premeditated murder; however, the Kokomo police botched the investigation by not searching the couple’s trailer sooner.
Nearly nine months after Kelly Armstrong disappeared, Travis Funke has struck an agreement with county prosecutors — 35 years in prison and a plea to voluntary manslaughter. Finally, an end to this bizarre case is in sight.
After rescinding a plea agreement for voluntary manslaughter, Howard County prosecutors have refiled charges against Funke and are now charging him with homicide. It would have been difficult for prosecutors to prove voluntary manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, and proving murder will pose a still greater challenge without definite proof that Armstrong is dead.
However, given Funke’s suspicious behavior, the DNA match with the blood in his trailer, the fact that Armstrong has been missing since last year and, most importantly, Funke’s jailhouse confession, the prosecution may be able to convince the jury.
The maximum penalty for Funke would be life imprisonment, a far cry from the 35-year offer he had previously accepted from prosecutors.
Travis Funke, the lone suspect in the 2011 disappearance of young mother Kelly Armstrong, has agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a 35-year prison term, followed by a 15-year probationary period.
By September of 2011, Kelly Armstrong’s family hadn’t heard from her in weeks. They kept calling her boyfriend Travis Funke for her whereabouts, but he never had a good answer – Kelly was always “out,” or “with some friends” or “working,” without any further details. It was strange for the young mother of an eighteen-month-old child not to have any contact with her family or with her son, but the Armstrong family held out hope that they would hear from her.
As it happens, they held out hope a little too long. By the time they filed a missing persons report in late September, 2011, Armstrong had been missing for close to six weeks. Any physical evidence of a crime had long since been cleared away.
The police investigation of Armstrong’s disappearance took some strange turns. They arrested Funke on an existing warrant, not in connection with Armstrong’s case. By the time they searched Funke’s trailer, he had been in custody for a few days, and some local teens had used the empty trailer for a party. Debris littered the home, furnishings may have been destroyed or removed, and evidence like fingerprints or bloody towels or sheets was all long gone.
While in custody, Funke’s cellmate told police that Funke revealed to him that he killed Armstrong with a hammer. A month later, a friend of Funke’s came forward and told investigators the same thing. Police searched the trailer again, this time finding blood stains on the carpet that would turn out to be a 99.9% match for Armstrong and a green-handled hammer that they claim was the murder weapon.
In January of 2012, almost five months later, police interviewed Funke about Armstrong’s disappearance. He told police they had been fighting for days, that she had hit him on the head with the hammer, and that while he was passed out from the blow to the head, he dreamed he was hitting her with a hammer. When he awoke, she was dead.
Funke told police he wrapped his girlfriend’s corpse up in a tarp and put her in the trash, which was picked up that same day. Police searched the local landfill and were unable to find Armstrong’s body.
Travis Funke – Kelly Armstrong’s alleged killer and one-time boyfriend. This charmer was already on home detention for another criminal matter when police began investigating him for the disappearance of Kelly Armstrong. After they interviewed him, he tried to remove his ankle bracelet and, failing that, tried commit suicide.
Shelly Rush – Armstrong’s sister, who reported her missing in late September 2011.
Kelly Armstrong – The 27-year-old from Kokomo, Indiana, who went missing in August, 2011 and is now thought to be Funke’s manslaughter victim. She was the mother of a 2-year-old child.
David Armstrong – The father of the victim, who has said in media interviews that a voluntary manslaughter charge is not justice.
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Wild About Trial readers might be wondering, “What’s up with the voluntary manslaughter charge? Didn’t Funke kill his girlfriend? Why not a straight first degree murder charge?” You aren’t alone — the Armstrong family feels the same way.
Voluntary manslaughter is also known as heat of passion murder – that is, the killing was not premeditated, it was not calculated, and it was not calmly carried out according to a plan. Voluntary manslaughter is basically the blurry line between an accidental killing and cold-blooded murder. It is also used in cases of self-defense.
In this case, the district attorney appears to have filed the charges he thinks he can prove against Funke, given the evidence they have against him. Keep in mind that the police investigation of Armstrong’s disappearance began long after she disappeared, and much of the evidence at the Funke residence that would have incriminated the defendant was lost.
Since the police did not treat the investigation as a homicide investigation until it was too late, the prosecution’s case is weak on physical evidence. In fact, they have yet to recover Ms. Armstrong’s body, which will make it difficult to even prove she is dead.
The evidence the government has linking Funke to Armstrong’s death is: hearsay statements from one of Funke’s friends, the testimony of a jailhouse informant, and Funke’s own statements that he “dreamed” he hit Armstrong with a hammer, and when he woke up, she was dead. These statements are certainly enough to start a trial but probably would not be enough to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for first degree murder.
Ultimately, however, Funke and his lawyers decided the evidence against him was plenty damning, and he opted for a more predictable path — a plea agreement to less time than he otherwise might have served.
Funke’s lawyers may seek to challenge the statements he made to police while in custody if the confession occurred without a Miranda advisement (“you have the right to remain silent,”) or if the questioning happened when Funke was not represented by an attorney. If Funke was not represented and did not sign a waiver of his rights, these statements might be excluded from evidence at trial.
Without strong forensic evidence positively linking Funke to Armstrong’s death, a voluntary manslaughter charge is probably as good as the prosecution can hope to get from a jury.