Defense to argue that murder suspect was denied the right to a speedy trial

March 28, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Attorneys for James H. VanMetre III are expected to begin arguments tomorrow to have murder charges against him dropped, saying prosecutors missed their chance by not bringing the convicted rapist to trial quickly enough.

VanMetre, 35, was indicted in December 1991 on first-degree murder charges in the strangulation of Holly Ann Blake, 28, whose burned body remains was found Oct. 6, 1991 on a farm in Harney.

He wasn't served with the murder indictments until January of BTC this year because Carroll county prosecutors were waiting until completion of his unrelated first-degree rape trial in Adams County, Pa.

He was extradited to Carroll County on Jan. 20 and has remained at the Carroll County Detention Center since.

In a pretrial motions hearing on Friday in Carroll Circuit Court, Howard County Assistant Public Defender Louis P. Willemin said that his client was denied the right to a speedy trial.

"This case has never been set in front of an administrative judge" to waive VanMetre's right to a trial within 180 days of being indicted, the attorney told Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold, who is handling the motions hearing.

Mr. Willemin, working with Carroll Assistant Public Defender Martha Ann Sitterding, will begin arguments on that motion tomorrow.

Should Judge Arnold agree with defense attorneys, then the indictment against VanMetre will be dismissed.

Other issues during the pretrial hearing include VanMetre's statements to authorities in Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Carroll County. Many of those statements would be key pieces of evidence at VanMetre's trial, scheduled for April 12.

Defense attorneys are seeking to have many of those statements suppressed.

VanMetre, who was convicted of rape and kidnapping in July by a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas jury, has not been sentenced in that case. The courts are still considering his post-conviction appeals.

The disappearance of Ms. Blake in September 1991 shook Gettysburg and Bonneauville, Pa., where she was living. She was last seen alive Sept. 26 in a cream-colored Subaru with Tennessee license plates registered to VanMetre, police said.

Ms. Blake, the mother of two young girls, apparently had known VanMetre for about a week and probably entered the car willingly, police said.

A pile of ashes and human bone fragments was found on a Harney farm Oct. 6. Maryland State Police said they believe that VanMetre drove Ms. Blake to the farm in the 4700 block of Baptist Road, where his brother rented a home.

Police said that a fight probably broke out and that Ms. Blake was strangled. Her body was set on fire by her killer and her ashes scattered, police said.

If VanMetre is convicted of first-degree murder, prosecutors say that they will seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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