Nearly 40 years ago, Kathryn Eng’s brother was murdered in the family’s home in Issaquah. Her brother, Mark Wallace, was just 14 years old when he was killed by his older brother’s friend, John H. Schoenhals.
In 1985, Schoenhals, then age 20, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a jury found him guilty of killing young Mark Wallace with his own father’s scuba knife.
Prosecutors argued that Schoenhals and a friend were attempting to steal guns and other valuables from the Wallace family’s home when they found and captured Mark Wallace — handcuffing him before killing him to eliminate witnesses of the crime.
Now, after a Washington State Supreme Court decision that ruled mandatory life sentences without parole for offenders who were under age 22 to be unconstitutional, Mark Wallace’s convicted killer is eligible for resentencing and could even see his own release from prison.
Eng said she heard of her brother’s killer being eligible for resentencing after lawyers and liaisons who were associated with Schoenhals’ defense team contacted the family and asked if they wanted to review his psych evaluation. As of this writing, no official action has been taken on a possible resentencing.
Schoenhals’ mental competency was a subject of the trial in 1985. According to trial coverage by The Issaquah Press newspaper, Schoenhals was evaluated to have “the mind of a third grader installed in a tall and stocky grown man,” an assessment that was brought by the defense to support a narrative that Schoenhals may have been manipulated into committing a burglary and a murder.
When asked if she thought it was possible that Schoenhals may have been manipulated into the murder of her brother, Eng said: “I can never know what is in the head and heart of another human being, but the evidence suggests, and the injuries suggest, a person capable of extraordinary violence.”
Eng remembered attending the trial in 1985. She was 22 years old at the time. She remembered the gruesome photos shown in court, the blood splatter, the mortal wounds her brother suffered. She remembered arriving early to the courtroom before the trial and seeing Schoenhals being escorted into the chair where defendants accused of terrible crimes are led to sit and face judgment.
She remembered Schoenhals looking at her on his way in. She was terrified by the look he gave her.
“He saw that I was afraid, and he liked it,” she said. “That was the impression I got.”
The Wallace family was familiar with Schoenhals. He had been friends with Al Wallace, who was 19 years old at the time of the crime. Schoenhals had even gone to see “Beverly Hills Cop” at the movie theater with Al and Mark Wallace — just a couple of days before he killed the 14-year-old Mark in his own home.
Mark Wallace reportedly died in handcuffs. Prosecutors alleged that Schoenhals killed Mark Wallace to eliminate witnesses to a burglary that he and an accomplice had been committing — they stole guns from the home. It is believed that Schoenhals slashed Mark Wallace’s throat with his father’s scuba knife before stabbing him in the stomach.
Mark was found by his father, a Mercer Island police officer who came home from a graveyard shift to find his son left for dead.
Eng remembered her father’s testimony during the trial. As a police officer, he knew how to take the stand. He gave precise descriptions of his account and scene he arrived at — before breaking down when he told the court how he kneeled down and said goodbye to his dying son. She said it was emotion he could not keep inside of himself.
Eng said her brother Mark was a quiet, sweet, funny, vulnerable and quirky boy. She remembered Garfield posters in his room, even at the age of 14, and she remembered how he would play with her son — but she said those all just sounded like adjectives to her now, decades after a tragic killing cut the possibilities of her brother’s life short.
She said that Schoenhals’ conviction and sentence all those decades ago had provided at least some sense of relief for her and her family.
“At least we had some safety,” Eng said. “We would know where he was.”
At that moment, she said she felt there was “something right about the world,” but now as a 2021 Washington Supreme Court decision has put Schoenhals’ life sentence into question, decades-old trauma is once again rearing its ugly head for Eng and the Wallace family.
Eng said she understands and can appreciate that the state is trying to reform and improve the criminal justice system in a progressive way. But she questions whether it would ever be appropriate to release Schoenhals.
“This killer, and this crime, are not deserving of leniency,” she said. “I really do feel like he should be in for the rest of his life.”
When asked if she could ever forgive Schoenhals for his crime, Eng answered: “Forgiveness, if it means not holding hatred inside of me, then yes. I have done a lot of work to not hold hate and resentment inside of me.”
Eng said her sense of forgiveness does not mean she thinks he should be let free. She said she worries about how safe it would be to let him go free, even after all these years.
“I am afraid of him,” she said. “I am afraid for him to get out.”
Letter to the editor
The following is a letter to the editor written by Kathryn Eng:
Dear community, please keep my brother’s killer in prison.
That terrible morning Dad returned from work, he imagined breakfast with my brother Mark, 14. It was not to be. A kitchen of broken glass. A backdoor yawning. Dad sprinted, slipped. But Mark was already dead, killed with Dad’s own scuba diving knife.
Life as we knew it ended there on the bedroom floor.
The killer, John Schoenhals, 20, was apprehended, Mark’s blood on his camo-pants. Once convicted and sentenced to life without parole, my family at least had some safety. Some justice.
Fast forward 38 years. Schoenhals now qualifies for “resentencing” because it’s thought, at least in Washington state, that murderous young men (18, 19, 20) should not have been sentenced to “automatic life without parole” because of their still developing brains. Many convicted killers may now go free, including the man who slashed my kid brother to death.
My dad’s career ended. My mother still cries. And me, I am here writing to you, rage and disbelief coursing down my cheeks.
My family needs kid-killing Schoenhals in custody. We have to be better than this.
Please. Dear community, keep my brother’s killer in prison.
Kathryn Eng, Mark’s sister