GATESVILLE — David Keith Allen, the former Gatesville pastor charged with capital murder in the March 2011 death of his wife in a mobile home fire, on Wednesday pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of “arson causing death,” was convicted by the court and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Allen, 51, was set to go to trial Feb. 24 for the murder of Paula Allen, 54, whose body was found in the couple’s mobile home, which was destroyed in a fire that investigators later said was intentionally set.
A guilty verdict in the murder case would have resulted in a life prison term with no chance for parole. The state was not seeking the death penalty.
The ruling by 52nd District Judge Trent Farrell included a finding of deadly weapon (fire), which means Allen will have to serve at least half his sentence before being eligible for parole.
In exchange for Allen's plea, two perjury charges against Allen’s current wife, Megan Lynn Allen, 28, were dropped, 52nd District Attorney Dusty Boyd said.
Allen also agreed to waive his right to appeal the verdict and abandon a $250,000 life insurance policyt taken out on Paula Allen 40 days before her death, Boyd said.
“Proving arson would have been the toughest part of this case for us,” Boyd said.
The district attorney said he took a second look at the case after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the conviction of a Hewitt man, Ed Graf, who was found guilty in 1988 of setting a shed fire that killed his two adopted sons.
An arson expert who testified at a hearing in the Graf case in January reviewed the mobile home fire in the Allen case and determined there was no conclusive evidence of arson, Boyd said.
Allen, the former pastor of New Life Church of Restoration near Gatesville, has been in jail since January 2012. He remains in the Coryell County Jail awaiting transfer to the state prison system.
At the time of his arrest, Coryell County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Blakley said the blaze “had to be ruled arson or the grand jury couldn’t have gotten the capital murder charge.”
According to previous reports, Allen called 911 when he discovered his home ablaze on church property in March 2011.
Allen told firefighters arriving on scene he attempted to enter the home to save his wife but was overcome by smoke and flames. Firefighters checked the bedroom, where Allen said she should be, but they did not find her.
Paula Allen was later found less than a foot from the front door under a portion of the collapsed roof.
Coryell County Justice of the Peace Coy Latham said Paula Allen’s full autopsy didn’t determine whether her death was an accident, from natural causes, a suicide or a homicide.
It indicated she died from thermal burns and smoke inhalation.