MODESTO -- A 17-year-old Denair girl pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges she stabbed her father to death and assaulted her mother.
It's not clear what kind of defense Shanna Wills will pursue, but family members said allegations she suffered abuse from either or both of her parents are false.
Wills appeared briefly in Stanislaus County Superior Court, where she entered the plea to the charges and enhancements she used a deadly weapon. Judge John Freeland set a preliminary hearing for June 13.
Defense attorney Greg Spiering said outside court that his client is doing better after the Mother's Day incident that left Kenneth Wills, 62, dead and Susan Wills, 61, seriously injured.
"She's starting to reconstitute after the immense stress and dislocation" she endured in the days after the incident, Spiering said. He said he's met with Shanna Wills several times at Juvenile Hall, but they have not determined what type of defense they will mount.
"We're just getting started," he said.
He would not comment on allegations that Wills and her parents fought regularly in the days leading up to the attack. "I think evidence will be presented about the relationship," he said. Wills is a petite girl with short, spiky blond hair friends said her hair was long until she cut it a few days before the attacks.
Shanna Wills' sister, Kristy Duncan, said the family had been close until recent months. Although Duncan is 18 years older than her sister and moved to Idaho five years ago, they spoke regularly on the phone.
Shanna Wills planned a summer visit. "My mom even bought her a ticket for July 4, and she was going to stay with us for a month," Duncan said.
Friends described her as a gregarious, outgoing girl who changed in recent weeks.
Paige Kisner, a friend of Shanna Wills, went to court to support her Wednesday.
She described Shanna as a "great friend" who had some troubles recently. "She'd be fine one minute, and then she'd flip out," said Kisner, 17.
Kisner said she doesn't think Wills was justified in attacking her parents if she did it but "I think she exploded. She'd been holding it in for so long."
Kisner described a relationship in which Wills regularly fought, sometimes physically, with her father. "She knocked his teeth out once, and she had bruises up and down her arms," Kisner said.
And the owner of a Denair convenience store said Shanna Wills came in the week before the incident, crying, and asked for advice on dealing with her father.
"She said her father was hitting her for no reason," Barbara Kaur said. "She had bruises on all her arms, seven or eight of them."
Kaur said she told the girl to write a letter to her father and try to discuss their disagreements calmly. She said Shanna returned that Friday or Saturday, bringing Kaur flowers and telling her that the letter worked.
"She was very thankful," Kaur said. "She said, 'My father is good to me now.' She was a very pleasant girl."
But family members said it was Shanna Wills who caused trouble, refusing to go to school or listen to her parents. She transferred from Denair High School to an independent study program that required attendance only once a week. Duncan said any bruises on Shanna's arms would have come from her father grabbing the teenager to hold her off during a fight.
"There was no physical, mental or sexual abuse in that family," Duncan said.
Glenn Duncan, Kristy's husband, described Wills as "rebellious" and said she disobeyed her parents.
"(Kenneth Wills) was the awesomest guy you'd ever meet," Glenn Duncan said, adding that the Willses called often in the few weeks before the attack to talk about problems with Shanna. "They didn't want to call the cops on her."
Tensions escalated. Kristy Duncan said her mother started calling her every day. Duncan said she encouraged Susan Wills to call the police, but her mom resisted.
Susan Wills had suffered some health problems, undergoing two hip replacements recently. Kenneth Wills was in good health, although "he got a little weaker as he aged," Duncan said.
Duncan said she planned to come and pick up her sister early, bringing her back to Idaho.
"When I told her I was coming down, she flipped," Duncan said.
She planned to come to California on May 13. The Sunday before, Susan Wills called her daughter, saying Shanna had attacked her parents.
"My mom was laying on him, protecting him from her," Duncan said. "She told me, 'Your dad and I have been stabbed. I think your dad is dead.' "
Duncan said the phone went dead. As soon as she arranged for a relative to call 911, she and her husband got in the car to drive to Denair.
"I couldn't get hold of anybody for 10 hours," she said, her voice breaking. "Then I found out the bad news: My dad was dead. He's my best friend. If you knew him, you would love him."
Duncan said Susan Wills would be released from the hospital Wednesday; funeral services for Kenneth Wills are pending.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343.