GATESVILLE — A sensational murder trial anticipated for more than two years was canceled last week after a plea agreement was reached.
In March 2011, a charismatic preacher, suddenly widowed when his wife died in a fire that destroyed their mobile home, stood to collect a $250,000 insurance policy, which had taken effect the day before the fire.
Ten months after his wife’s death, the preacher married a woman from his congregation who had grown up with his stepdaughters and was a year younger than one of them.
After investigations by two district attorneys, a maze of evidence, a blizzard of rumors and countless delays, David Keith Allen, 52, is going to prison.
Allen evaded a capital murder trial — and the possibility of a life sentence without parole — by pleading no contest to first-degree arson causing the death of Paula Allen, 54.
He was found guilty by 52nd District Judge Trent Farrell and sentenced to 30 years. Because a finding of deadly weapon (fire) was part of the plea, David Allen will not be eligible for parole until 2027.
Also part of the plea deal: Allen waived his right to appeal and agreed to abandon the insurance claim, and two charges of aggravated perjury against his current wife, Megan Allen, 28, were dismissed.
“These cases are never easy,” District Attorney Dusty Boyd said. “The (victim’s) family is happy and I am proud of the outcome.”
Paula Allen’s daughters — Miranda Waters, 30, and Malissa Casas, 27 — said they are relieved and happy with the result.
“Absolutely,” said Waters when asked if she had received justice. “If feels like we had the funeral all over again. I am able to rest in peace now.”
Miranda was 12 and Malissa was 10 when their mother married David Allen.
“At first he was the cool dad, the fun dad,” Waters said.
At the time, David Allen was a framing carpenter who liked to party. “My uncles said whatever David did — drinking, drugs, football, hunting — he always did 120 percent.”
After an accident in which David Allen was shot in the heart with a nail gun, Waters said, he found Jesus. As a Christian, he kept his 120 percent enthusiasm.
“He wanted to be an evangelist,” she said. “My mom was happy. She was already saved and she had prayed for him to be saved.”
The former carpenter became youth minister at Twin Creeks Church east of Gatesville. He left the church for a while but returned as pastor when it became New Life Church of Restoration.
As a born-again Christian, Allen became a “stricter” dad, Casas said.
He gave up drinking and drugs “as far as we know,” Waters said. “He was still all about himself.”
In the months before her death, Paula Allen expressed concerns to her daughters about David’s relationship with Megan Griffith, a young member of the church Praise Team with whom the girls had grown up.
“I didn’t care for her,” Casas said of Griffith. “She was very flirty.”
Paula and David argued about the young woman, Casas said, and the couple went to counseling.
Casas was still living at home just weeks before the fire. She had just married and was on her honeymoon the night her mother died.
“We met with him at the church to plan the funeral,” Casas said. “He was telling us what he believed happened that night, but his story kept changing.”
The daughters said they were not surprised when David Allen was charged with setting the fire that killed their mother.
Boyd inherited the case from his predecessor when he took office as district attorney in January.
Before being sworn in, he met with the daughters to assure them of his commitment to the case.
“We were afraid Dusty was going to start over from scratch,” Waters said. “After talking with him, we knew he actually cared. He asked all kinds of questions.”
Waters and Casas were involved in the case “step by step” as Boyd’s staff worked with the Coryell County sheriff and the Gatesville Police Department to “run down a million rabbit trails” for evidence, Boyd said.
The daughters were glad to have a prosecutor who involved them, and they suggested witnesses to interview and conferred on the unfolding plea negotiations.
Question of arson
When the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently threw out a 25-year-old arson conviction in a Waco case, Boyd worried he might have trouble proving Allen set the fatal fire.
“Arson science has changed,” Boyd said. He hired a California arson expert who testified at the Waco hearing to review the Allen evidence.
“He couldn’t say the fire was an accident, but he couldn’t say it was arson,” Boyd said. “The evidence was inconclusive.”
Boyd said he didn’t want Waters and Casas to worry about a conviction being overturned on appeal years from now.
When Boyd offered to reduce the capital murder to first-degree murder, the defense countered with a plea of first-degree arson.
“I didn’t want to do it at first, but with 30 years in prison and no chance of appeal, the girls were for it,” Boyd said. “They showed a lot of courage.”
When Allen was sentenced Wednesday, Waters read a statement from the family.
“I pray every day you think about Paula Diann, the woman who loved you so much. She prayed for your soul,” Waters said.
The statement quoted Luke 12:2, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”
“We have prayed for two years and nine months for the truth to be revealed,” she said.
After the fatal fire that took Paula Allen’s life in March 2011, David Allen and his new wife left the church and started Final Victory Ministries in a hotel room.
Last week, Boyd, Waters and Casas agreed that the final victory was theirs.