Murder defendant appears in court, after much coaxing

April 15, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

James Howard VanMetre III didn't want to go to court yesterday.

In his cell at the Carroll County Detention Center, the 35-year-old who is on trial for first-degree murder tied himself to his bunk -- using bedsheets -- and refused to be taken across the street to Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.'s courtroom, said Sheriff John H. Brown.

It took sheriff's deputies, VanMetre's attorneys, a nurse and a psychologist almost three hours to persuade him to make an appearance in the courtroom so the third day of his jury trial could begin.

"Let's face it, he's charged with a horrible crime," the sheriff said yesterday. "I'd be a little nervous, too."

VanMetre, 35, of East Berlin, Pa., is charged with the strangulation of Holly Ann Blake, a 28-year-old waitress whose -- burned remains were found scattered on a Harney farm.

He was indicted in December 1991 by a Carroll grand jury on counts of first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, attempted murder and battery.

The defendant's attorneys on Tuesday said that VanMetre strangled Ms. Blake and burned her body in September 1991 after Ms. Blake made a disparaging remark about his anatomy.

Virtually the only aspect of the crime in dispute is how much VanMetre thought about it before he killed her.

Defense attorneys argue that the killing was done in the "heat of passion" and wasn't first-degree murder.

L Prosecutors say the killing was deliberate and premeditated.

Prosecutors called only a few witnesses yesterday. The day's key witness, Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Lester Freehling, testified for most of the afternoon.

Sergeant Freehling was the officer who took the first tape-recorded statement VanMetre gave to police. That tape was played for the jury.

In the tape, VanMetre provides details of his and Ms. Blake's first date, when the two drove to a Harney farm and began to kiss and make out. When Ms. Blake made the remark about his anatomy, he became enraged.

"So I just grabbed her damn neck and, next thing I know, I was choking her," VanMetre said on the tape. "I looked around, and her face was all blue. Goddamn, I killed that girl."

The jury also heard VanMetre describe how he threw Ms. Blake's body on a fire.

While the tape was playing, VanMetre cried softly, wiped his brow and looked at the floor. After about 30 minutes, he asked his attorneys to request a recess. He did not return to the courtroom for the rest of the taped statement.

The trial is to continue today.

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