Man denied new trial in Pa. kidnapping, rape

October 28, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

A week after Maryland's highest court blocked the reinstatement of his first-degree murder conviction, James Howard VanMetre III lost his bid for a new trial in a Pennsylvania rape and kidnapping.

By rejecting arguments that VanMetre's lawyer was incompetent and that his 1992 jury trial should have been moved from Gettysburg because of excessive publicity, Adams County Common Pleas Judge John D. Kuhn late Tuesday paved the way for a Nov. 30 sentencing hearing.

According to Assistant District Attorney Martha J. Duvall -- who learned of the ruling yesterday -- Judge Kuhn could impose a sentence ranging from about 10 years to more than 80 years for VanMetre's convictions on rape, kidnapping, assault, burglary and deviate sexual contact charges.

In July 1992, an Adams County jury convicted VanMetre of kidnapping and raping a Reading Township, Pa., woman on Sept. 15, 1991.

According to testimony and court records, VanMetre was dressed in combat fatigues when he broke into the woman's home. He forced the woman into his car and drove her to a campground where he tied her hands.

The woman was raped three times before her barrage of prayers persuaded him to take her back to her home.

In statements to police, tapes of which were played at his trial, VanMetre admitted the attack and said:

"You know, my mind kept telling me, 'Go for it.' Nothing was ever intentional with me, it's just that time someone just told me, 'Go, go for it, go for it, you know. Go out and do crime like that, you know, I guess, go break into somebody's house and kidnap somebody.' "

The reversal of Van Metre's Carroll murder conviction was left intact, without comment, by the Maryland Court of Appeals last week. The high court let stand an earlier ruling by the Court of Special Appeals that said VanMetre's murder conviction should be thrown out because Carroll prosecutors did not follow Maryland's trial scheduling rule.

The intermediate court said in June that the Carroll state's attorney should have asked a judge to waive the rule -- which calls for a trial within 180 days of an attorney's involvement in a case -- when it was clear that VanMetre would not be released by Pennsylvania authorities in time for his trial.

VanMetre's Maryland public defenders, aware of the violation of the trial-scheduling rule, offered a plea bargain to prosecutors that would have kept VanMetre in prison for 10 years. Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman turned down the offer, insisting that his office did not have a problem with the rule.

By refusing to reconsider the case, the Court of Appeals has assured that VanMetre will not be retried on charges arising from the death of Holly Ann Blake, a 28-year-old Gettysburg waitress whose charred body was found on a Harney farm in 1991.

Ms. Blake, a mother of two, and VanMetre were on their first date when Ms. Blake made disparaging remarks about him and he strangled her, according to statements to investigators.

In statements to police and in court documents, VanMetre admitted throwing Ms. Blake's body on a bonfire after she died.

VanMetre never denied killing Ms. Blake. In a letter to Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. two months before the intermediate court struck down his conviction, he asked to be executed. Judge Beck had sentenced the 37-year-old unemployed tree trimmer to life in prison without parole.

VanMetre could be released from a Pennsylvania prison on parole in the future, Ms. Duvall said.

After his sentencing Nov. 30, VanMetre faces trial on assault charges. According to Pennsylvania State Police records, VanMetre is accused of assaulting four guards at the Adams County Prison Sept. 29.

According to police, VanMetre, who had decided to forego personal hygiene as a form of protest, fought with the guards when they attempted to clean his cell and force him to take a shower.

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