Defense offer rejected in murder trial

April 13, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Attorneys for James Howard VanMetre III offered yesterday to tell the jury at his first-degree murder trial that the woman he is accused of killing was strangled, her body was concealed in the woods and he was the man who led police to the body.

In the last set of pretrial motions, after the trial jury was selected, Assistant Public Defender Martha Ann Sitterding asked Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. to agree to the stipulations in exchange for excluding testimony about how Holly Ann Blake's body was burned.

The offer, said attorneys in the case, would make it harder for the state to prove first-degree murder.

State prosecutors rejected the offer. They said it would substantially limit the evidence they can present to the jury.

"We're here to try a first-degree murder case," said Deputy State's Attorney Edward M. Ulsch. "The case has to be tried in its entirety, because I cannot predict what it is a case turns on. Stipulations are not impressive to any jury."

Judge Beck told the attorneys to discuss potential stipulations after court adjourned for the day. He said if they did not reach an agreement by this morning, he would rule from the bench today before opening statements are heard by the nine-man, three-woman jury.

VanMetre, 35, of East Berlin Township, Pa., faces first- and second-degree murder charges in the strangulation of Holly Ann Blake, a Pennsylvania mother of three whose burned remains were found on a Harney farm.

Opening statements in the trial were expected today. Prosecutors are seeking life imprisonment without possibility of parole for VanMetre if he is convicted.

Ms. Sitterding, as she made the evidentiary offer, said it would reduce the number of witnesses that would be called and would prevent the jury from viewing many disturbing photographs.

Prosecutors also agreed yesterday to keep any testimony about VanMetre's criminal record out of the trial. He was convicted on unrelated rape and kidnapping charges last July in Pennsylvania.

In an earlier motions hearing, Judge Francis M. Arnold ruled that several tape-recorded statements were admissible at trial. In those statements, VanMetre told police he strangled Ms. Blake because she made a disparaging remark about his anatomy.

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