24 YEARS AFTER UKIAH ABDUCTION, WHITE AGAIN FACES PARNELL
OAKLAND - In a dramatic courthouse reunion, two boys-turned-men testified Wednesday about their roles as hunter and quarry in a Ukiah child snatching orchestrated by Kenneth Parnell more than 20 years ago.
Timothy White and Randall Sean Poorman were called to the witness stand in succession to evoke memories of how White was grabbed off a Ukiah street on Valentine's Day in 1980 and whisked to a "small farm" by Parnell.
Parnell is on trial in Alameda County Superior Court on charges of trying to buy a 4-year-old boy last year in Berkeley. He is charged with solicitation to commit a crime, trying to buy a human being and attempted child-stealing.
Details of Parnell's abductions of 7-year-old Steven Stayner in 1972 and 5-year-old White in 1980 were presented to give jurors a sense of what Parnell had in mind when he offered Diane Stevens of Oakland $500 to deliver a boy to his Berkeley home on Jan. 3, 2003.
"I was kidnapped," White said under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Tim Wellman, who then asked whether White recognized his abductor. "Yes. He is sitting right there in a red jumpsuit: Kenneth Parnell."
White looked sidelong at Parnell, 72, who sat hunched in a wheelchair at the defense table with his attorney, Deborah Levy. Parnell has opted to wear jailhouse garb at the trial.
White was a kindergarten student in Ukiah in 1980. A classmate routinely accompanied him the bulk of the way home or to a baby sitter's house after school each day. He walked the final stretch alone.
White was carrying Valentine's cards and his lunch pail when 14-year-old Randall Poorman feigned car tire trouble and tried to get White to hold a tire valve stem. Parnell was in the driver's seat of the car.
White ran instead of falling for the ruse.
"I got a couple of steps, then he grabbed me and threw me into the back seat," White said. Poorman "gave me some juice and sleeping pills."
Poorman, then a seventh-grader, was Stayner's friend and had known Parnell for about a year. Stayner introduced Parnell as his father, said Poorman, who testified after White on Wednesday.
Poorman, now 38, was waiting outside the courtroom when White ended his testimony and stepped into the hallway. The men reportedly had not seen each other since Parnell's 1981 trial in Hayward for the kidnappings made famous in the book and film "I Know My First Name Is Steven."
Poorman and White hugged and Poorman whispered an apology. White replied softly, "It's OK ... I've got a good wife."
Poorman, his black shirt buttoned to the collar, then went to face Parnell and answer questions about his role in the White kidnapping.
Poorman testified it was the night before Valentine's Day in 1980 when Parnell enlisted him in a plan to abduct a small boy in Ukiah "so he could build his family." Parnell offered Poorman cash, liquor and marijuana for his help, said Poorman, now a carpenter in Marin County with children of his own.
Poorman described accompanying Parnell to the Palace Hotel in Ukiah, where he slept or walked around while Parnell worked a night shift. The next morning, Parnell shopped for children's supplies that included girls clothing so they could "camouflage" the boy they grabbed, Poorman said. Parnell bought orange juice and sleeping tablets at a Rexall drugstore, Poorman recalled.
Parnell's plan was to point out the boy he wanted and have Poorman "seize the boy and pull him in the car," Poorman testified. Parnell endorsed Poorman's suggestion that they pretend to have tire trouble, Poorman said.
"Mr. Parnell was running the whole thing," Poorman countered during a combative exchange with Levy, who implied Poorman was the one in charge that day.
Parnell targeted White as the boy he wanted, Poorman said. After White ran, Parnell "yelled at me obscenities to get the kid," Poorman testified.
He said he pulled White from a chain-link fence, carried him back to the car and tossed him in the back seat.
"Kenneth Parnell said to give him orange juice and sleeping pills and cover him with a blanket," said Poorman, who was prosecuted in Juvenile Court for his role in the crime and testified against Parnell in 1981.
Poorman said Parnell told him, "You've made me a very happy man." Parnell paid Poorman as promised, then threatened trouble for him and his family if he ever spoke of the kidnapping, Poorman testified.
Poorman said he was in the Oakland courtroom Wednesday "because it's the right thing to do."
"I just wanted to say I am very sorry," Poorman said, prompting an objection from Levy and an admonition from the Judge Julie Conger for speaking when there was no question.
White was taken to a cabin off Mountain View Road in Mendocino County. Parnell lived there with Steven Stayner, who Parnell had kidnapped from Merced on Dec. 4, 1972, and held captive as "a son" who he sexually abused.
"Kenneth Parnell told me I was given to him by my parents; that they couldn't afford me and didn't want me any more," White said. "He was going to be my new dad."
Stayner took care of White when Parnell went to his night job at the Palace Hotel, White said. The boys could wander the country farm, and sometimes played with Stayner's throwing knife in a barn, White recalled.
Parnell dyed White's bright blond hair a dark brown and gave him clothes, said White, now 29 and married with two children. His wife traveled to Oakland with him from their Southern California home and watched from the gallery as White testified.
White said Parnell refused his pleas to be taken home to his parents. Privately, Stayner vowed to help White return to his family, White said.
"He didn't want what happened to him to happen to me," White said of Stayner.
Several nights, while Parnell was away, the boys ventured from the cabin off Mountain View Road and tried to hitchhike a ride. It was possibly their third attempt at escape when on March 2, 1980, they were driven into Ukiah by a man who spoke little English and had the car radio tuned to a Spanish station, White recalled.
Unable to find White's house, the man dropped the boys off. The pair ventured a while on foot before finding the Ukiah police station. White said he was so scared to go inside that he dashed, weeping, back to Stayner.
Parnell was convicted of kidnapping the boys and was paroled to Berkeley in 1985 after serving five years of a seven-year prison sentence.
Stayner was killed in 1989 in a motorcycle accident. His brother, motel handyman Cary Stayner, was convicted in 2002 for the 1999 murders of Carole Sund and her daughter Juli, both of Eureka, and a family friend, Silvinia Pelosso of Argentina.
He was convicted four months earlier of killing Joie Armstrong, a Yosemite National Park naturalist.