[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- PA., IND.
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Wed Sep 22 10:19:49 CDT 2004
death penalty news
September 22, 2004
Death penalty sought
When he found out his ex-girlfriend was dead, police say, James Vandivner
wanted to kill himself to avoid the executioner's needle.
That was months ago, at the close of a two-day manhunt, just days after a
point-blank gunshot tore into Michelle Cable's head, sending her to the
hospital where she died.
Vandivner, 55, formerly of Point Marion, had been in trouble before, for
burglary, assault and kidnapping. The officer who arrested him for homicide
testified during a previous hearing that Vandivner knew the severity of the
charges he now faces.
"Mr. Vandivner said that if he knew Michelle had died, he would have killed
himself because he knew it would be a death-penalty case," said Trooper
James Monkelis, of the state police Uniontown barracks.
Vandivner was right. Fayette County prosecutors plan to argue for his
According to court papers, three factors, called "aggravating
circumstances," warrant a death sentence.
Vandivner killed Cable while committing a felony; he created a grave risk
of death to others; and he has a significant history of violence, the
It was about 9 p.m. on July 5 when Vandivner went to Cable's 100 E. Second
St. home in the Jefferson Township village of Grindstone, police said. The
two previously had been a couple.
He went in through the back door and walked through the home to the front
porch, police said. When he got there, Cable's 18-year-old son, William
Cable, struggled to keep Vandivner away from his mother. Police said
Vandivner shot the young man in the neck and then pointed the small-caliber
weapon at Larry Newman, a neighbor of the Cables.
Vandivner fired at Newman's head, but missed, police said.
Michelle Cable tried to escape, but Vandivner grabbed her by the hair and
shot her behind her left ear, police said.
Vandivner then left, saying, "There, (expletive). I told you I would kill
you," according to police.
Cable and her son were flown to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
William Cable survived.
A manhunt ensued. More than 100 officers were involved before Vandivner was
found off Route 40 in the small Washington County town of Beallsville.
Vandivner, a former truck driver with a sixth-grade education, has a
criminal record that stretches back more than three decades. He was
released from prison in March 2003 after serving the maximum term of a
five- to 10-year sentence for assaulting and kidnapping his estranged wife,
During his arraignment on those charges, a court record indicates Vandivner
told a district justice, "What you're telling me is, if I killed my wife,
I'd probably be better off ... now I got 100 years (of possible
imprisonment) facing me."
A pretrial conference on his most recent case is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.
(source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Deadline has passed, but death penalty could still be sought in Howe case
A former Forest County DA says there are instances when seeking death could
be a drawback.
The deadline has come and gone for the prosecution to ask for the death
penalty in the Shauna Howe murder case, leading some in the community to
question why capital punishment was not pursued.
Those involved in the proceedings can't answer the question because of a
gag order handed down by Venango County Court. The order prohibits the key
players from discussing anything about the case.
Under Rule 801 of what is known as the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal
Procedure, District Attorney Marie Veon needed to give notice by Sept. 8 if
she planned to seek the death penalty. That was the date that two
defendants in the Howe case - Timothy Michael O'Brien and James Eric
O'Brien - had been scheduled to be arraigned.
There are exceptions to the rule. Veon could still pursue the death penalty
if she becomes aware of more evidence, or what are known as aggravating
"Sometimes that could even happen during a trial," said Steven Gilford, a
former Forest County district attorney. He is not involved in the Howe case.
Under Pennsylvania's sentencing rules, there are 18 aggravating
circumstances under which the death penalty could be applied in a
first-degree murder case. One of those circumstances is when the victim is
under 12 years of age. Another is when the killing was committed while
another felony was being carried out.
It would appear both those circumstances could apply in the Howe case. Even
so, there may be reasons not to pursue a death sentence.
"I remember a case that I had where there was potential for the death
penalty," Gilford said. Yet, he chose not to pursue the crime as a capital
case because of the defendant's age, which was 21 or 22.
He also was concerned about how jurors might react to potentially having to
choose whether the man should live or die for the crime.
"I didn't want the jury looking at this young man and finding him not
guilty because they didn't want to pursue a life or death issue," Gilford
Sometimes, Gilford said, an attorney has to analyze a jury.
"They may not want to be put in the position of choosing life or death," he
said. By not having the death penalty as a possibility, it would be
"putting less pressure on them," he said.
In a case where there is potential for a death sentence, jurors essentially
have to sit for two trials - one to determine a defendant's guilt or
innocence and a second, if the defendant is convicted, to determine life or
death, according to Gilford.
The former district attorney has never taken a capital case to trial.
"We had a couple of death penalty cases where we ended up pleading where
the guy got life (in prison). Basically, they pleaded guilty to murder (of
the first degree) if we took the death penalty off of the table," he said.
When asked if costs could play a role in the decision whether to pursue the
death penalty, Gilford said, "I wouldn't think so, to tell you the truth. I
wouldn't want to make a blanket statement covering all 67 district
attorneys throughout the state, but I don't think you would look at costs
on something like this."
The O'Brien brothers are charged with first-degree murder in the kidnapping
and slaying of Shauna, 11, in October 1992. She was last seen alive on the
corner of West First and Reed streets walking home from a Girl Scout
A third defendant, Eldred "Ted" Walker, 45, is facing a second-degree
(source: The Derrick & News Herald)
Accused killer could face death penalty
The state of Indiana will determine how best to charge Kerry C. Wilson this
week, hoping that this time he will stay behind bars.
Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson says he has not ruled out seeking
the death penalty for Wilson, 40, who was arrested Thursday for stabbing
his ex-girlfriend, Vicki Hunt, 38, and DaJuan Clark, 22, of Louisville.
Photo by Jeremy LyverseThis house is 1904 Hand Ave. in New Albany, Ind.,
where Vicki Hunt and DaJuan Clark were killed on Sept. 16.
New Albany Police said Wilson fled from Dismas Charities at 1501 Lytle St.
in the Portland neighborhood last Thursday morning. He was staying there
until he could appear at a probation revocation hearing in Clark County.
Dismas Charities, a private, not-for-profit organization, began housing
inmates from Clark County last year to ease the county jail's pervasive
overcrowding problems. It holds about 220 inmates and parolees from
Kentucky and Indiana.
Around 2:06 a.m., an alarm sounded inside the facility. Security guards,
who perform a head count every hour, immediately counted the prisoners
again and found Wilson missing. He escaped through a fire exit, said Robert
Lanning, director of Dismas Charities.
"I have never had a person from one of my centers do such a horrific act,"
he said. "I just couldn't believe it was correct."
That Wilson, who had three prior arrests for battery, was even staying at
Dismas angered Superior Court Judge Steven Fleece, who handled most of the
battery cases Wilson was charged with.
Hunt dropped a no-contact order against Wilson after he was arrested for
assaulting her in April. She had to attend classes on domestic violence
before a judge could approve her request, but Henderson said she "remained
steadfast" that she wanted the order dissolved.
He said it is not unusual in domestic violence cases for victims to
withdraw protective orders against their attackers. "That's part of the
cycle of domestic violence."
Even if the no-contact order had been in place, he said, "That piece of
paper would not have stopped a knife."
Sheriff Michael Becher would not comment. His spokeswoman, Lt. Racheal Lee,
said that the jail's classification officer decided Wilson was non-violent
and thus eligible to go to the facility.
In making its determination, Lee said, the officer reviews the inmate's
charges and disciplinary record. Wilson's was clean, and jail officials did
not receive any reports of Wilson causing problems at Dismas.
"Otherwise," Lee said, "we would've removed him from that facility."
At his press conference last week, however, Henderson said, "It is
unacceptable to release violent offenders into our community," but stopped
short of criticizing the Clark County Sheriff's Office. "They have some
serious overcrowding problems there," he said.
Lee took issue with the media's characterization of Dismas as a "halfway
house," saying the building has sufficient security.
"For me to get through the front door, I have to be buzzed through and
prove to them who I am."
Lanning said Dismas does house felony offenders who are out on parole, but
they stay for a limited time only. "They are expected to get a job, save
money; then they find a place to live," he said.
Only inmates who are "community-level status" can perform community service
and can stay at Dismas, he said. The community service privilege does not
apply to Indiana inmates.
In taking inmates, Lanning said, Dismas officials rely on the judgment of
jail officials to turn over parolees and offenders who are non-violent.
"They've dealt with these people not just one time, but many times," he
said. "They know more about the individuals than we do."
But he said he would not rule out seeking more information from the jails
about inmates headed for Dismas. "I guess that's something we would
consider," he said.
Wilson's case was unusual in that most of the time, security officers at
Dismas hear about planned escapes before they happen, Lanning said. In the
past, inmates planning to flee have been taken into custody.
With Wilson, "There was nothing to indicate that the individual was acting
in a bizarre way ahead of time," Lanning said. "I don't know what triggered
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