Mother convicted in cheerleading case Defense fails to prove plot to frame woman

September 04, 1991|By Roberto Suro | Roberto Suro,New York Times News Service

HOUSTON -- A 37-year-old woman was convicted yesterday of plotting to kill the mother of her daughter's chief rival in a cheerleading competition.

After nearly six hours of deliberations, the jury announced guilty verdicts against Wanda Webb Holloway on charges of solicitation of murder. The disposition of the second charge, solicitation of aggravated kidnapping, was not clear last night.

Under Texas law, the jury of eight men and four women will return for the punishment phase of the trial to determine her sentence. She faces a maximum punishment of life in prison.

Holloway was portrayed by prosecutors as a venomous matriarch obsessed with a need to protect and promote her children.

The woman whom Holloway allegedly plotted against was not killed. Taking the stand in her own defense last week, Holloway tearfully denied any wrongdoing, and her lawyers insisted that she had been entrapped in a plot concocted by her former husband and his brother.

The verdict came after a six-day trial for a crime that began iChannelview, Texas, a working-class suburb surrounded by oil refineries and petrochemical plants about 15 miles east of downtown Houston.

The prosecution said Holloway plotted murder because she was enraged that her 13-year-old daughter, Shanna, had failed to win a spot on the junior high school cheerleading squad two years in a row.

The prosecutors said Holloway wanted a professional killer to daway with Verna Heath, the mother of Shanna's chief rival, who was a neighbor and once a close friend of Holloway's. Aside from simple acrimony, the prosecutors said, Holloway's motive was to so disturb Mrs. Heath's daughter, Amber, that she would pose no threat to Shanna in future competitions.

The only evidence of the plot was six tape-recorded conversations between Holloway and her former brother-in-law, Terry Harper, who told her he could contract with someone to kill or kidnap Mrs. Heath. Mr. Harper testified that he turned to the police as the plot developed and wore a hidden microphone at their behest.

The jury heard Holloway give Mr. Harper detailed information on Mrs. Heath's appearance and her habits. But they also heard her laughing and joking as Mr. Harper repeatedly pressed her to reach a final decision.

By January, Holloway had decided she could not pay the $7,500 that Harper said it would cost to kill both Mrs. Heath and her daughter.

She then settled on Mrs. Heath as a target, saying, "The mother's done all the damage."

Subsequently, she gave Harper a pair of diamond earrings as partial payment and told him, "Go for it."

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