Defense motions to drop charges said to be granted CARROLL COUNTY

April 16, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

A Carroll County circuit judge yesterday threw out two charges in the first-degree murder trial of James Howard VanMetre III, a defense attorney said.

In a closed hearing at the bench, Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. granted defense motions for acquittal on charges of attempted murder and battery, said Assistant Public Defender Martha Ann Sitterding.

The judge denied defense motions to dismiss charges of first- and second-degree murder and manslaughter against the defendant, Ms. Sitterding said.

The prosecuting attorneys declined to comment.

The case is scheduled to go to the jury late today.

Testimony in the trial ended yesterday less than 30 minutes after the bench conference.

Two witnesses testified for the defense. VanMetre, who was recently convicted of unrelated felonies in Pennsylvania, did not testify.

VanMetre, 35, of East Berlin, Pa., was indicted by a Carroll County grand jury in December 1991 in the strangulation death of Holly Ann Blake, a 28-year-old waitress from Bonneauville, Pa.

Her burnt remains were found on a Harney farm.

Neither side disputes that VanMetre strangled Ms. Blake on Sept. 26, 1991, after she made a disparaging remark about him on their first date. Prosecutors and defense attorneys differ, however, in the amount of thought Mr. VanMetre put into the killing.

In opening statements Tuesday, Howard Assistant Public Defender Louis P. Willemin told the jury that his client is guilty of homicide, but not of first-degree murder. He and Ms. Sitterding have argued that VanMetre's actions were "in a heat of passion," and not deliberate. They are expected to say in final arguments today that Mr. VanMetre is guilty of manslaughter.

Until yesterday, prosecutors had presented little evidence to support their claim that VanMetre committed premeditated murder because he had enough time to know what he was doing when he began strangling Ms. Blake.

Yesterday, state police Tfc. Douglas R. Wehland, a key prosecution witness, explained the four-minute strangulation to the jury.

After Ms. Blake made the offensive comment, VanMetre grabbed Ms. Blake by the neck and began choking her, Trooper Wehland said.

The trooper recounted what VanMetre told him about the way he placed one hand on her neck and pressed it against his arm.

"He watched her struggle and kept pressing," the trooper said.

After four minutes, the trooper said, Ms. Blake was dead.

Prosecutors played a second tape-recorded confession, in which VanMetre told how he burned the body and scattered Ms. Blake's ashes near the Monocacy River.

In closing arguments today, prosecutors will ask the jury to convict VanMetre of first-degree murder. They are seeking a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted.

The defense will argue that he should be convicted only of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 30 years; manslaughter a maximum of 10 years.

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