HOUSTON -- Wanda Webb Holloway wanted the best for her 13-year-old daughter -- and in the small Texas town of Channelview, that meant making the high school cheerleading squad. But was Holloway willing to kill for it?
Authorities say Holloway took out a murder contract on the mother of her daughter's main rival in a desperate bid to ensure that her own child would make the squad. Holloway originally planned to have the 13-year-old rival killed as well, they said, but found the cost of two murders too expensive. So, they allege, she decided to kill only the mother on the theory the daughter then would be too distraught to try out.
"As parents, we all want our children to achieve," said James Barker, principal of Alice Johnson, where both girls graduated this spring from the 8th grade. ". . . From that viewpoint, [one] can identify with Wanda. There's a bit of Wanda in all of us."
Holloway, 37, whose trial was to open today in Houston, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she attempted to have the rival's mother killed. She faces 5 years to life in prison if convicted.
It was not known if a psychiatric defense was planned. Neither Holloway's lawyer nor prosecutors returned phone calls and police refused to comment on the case, citing a gag order.
The crux of the prosecution's case was thought to revolve around tapes secretly made early this year by an undercover officer posing as a hit man. Officials say Holloway agreed to pay the officer $2,500 to kill Verna Heath, 38, and produced a pair of diamond earrings as a down payment.
The two families live on the same street in the Sterling Green section of Channelview, an unincorporated town of 12,000 about 15 miles east of Houston. By one estimate, it would take 30 seconds to walk from one house to the other and both homes reportedly have the same floor plan.
The two girls -- Holloway's daughter, Shanna Harper, and Amber Heath -- have attended school together for years. Last year, at Alice Johnson Junior High School, Amber was president of the Student Council and Shanna was vice president.
"Both are girls any principal would want," said Barker. "They were academically able, top-notch students, polite, well-dressed, well-groomed . . . ideal students."
Shanna has an older brother, Shane. Her mother played the organ at church.
After the arrest, her father, Tony Harper, who divorced Holloway in 1980, went to court and obtained joint custody of both children.
Two years ago, Amber edged out Shanna for the junior high school cheerleading squad. Last year, Shanna was disqualified for the same squad when her mother handed out pencils with her name on them in violation of rules about campaigning for cheerleader.
This year, it is alleged, Holloway was so determined to have Shanna make the Channelview High School squad she was willing to resort to murder. In this version of events, she became the ultimate stage mother.
The case has drawn media attention from around the world. Talk shows have competed avidly for the major players.
While the controversy swirled around them -- and Holloway remained free on $10,000 bail -- Shanna and Amber finished the school year. Barker said he had no indication either was treated differently by their classmates after Holloway's arrest Jan. 30.
Tryouts for next year's cheerleader squad were held in late March. Shanna did not try out. Amber did and made it.
"My heart and concern goes out to the kids," Barker said. "They certainly deserve better than this."