U.S. attorney expected to seek indictment Pa. man's sentence in 1991 slaying was overturned

November 09, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,SUN STAFF

The U.S. attorney for Maryland is expected to seek a federal kidnapping indictment today against James A. VanMetre III, a Pennsylvania man whose sentence of life without parole for a Carroll County murder conviction was overturned by Maryland appellate courts.

The move would end a nearly 10-month investigation of VanMetre by the U.S. attorney and the FBI.

The 37-year-old former tree-trimmer from East Berlin, Pa., was convicted in April 1993 of the 1991 strangulation of Holly Ann Blake, a 28-year-old waitress with whom he was on his first date.

VanMetre had confessed to the killing and to burning Ms. Blake's body after flying into a rage when she made fun of him, trial testimony revealed.

A Carroll jury took several hours to find him guilty. The conviction -- and the life-without-parole sentence -- were thrown out in June 1994 by Maryland's appellate courts because then-Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hick

man had not followed the state's trial-scheduling rule.

Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes in January had asked U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia to seek federal charges against VanMetre.

Mr. Barnes would not comment yesterday on the possible grand jury presentment, but he handed out a vaguely worded news release announcing a 3 p.m. news conference today at the FBI's Baltimore office.

The release talked of a "significant indictment involving violent crime," but was not specific.

Marcy Murphy, an assistant to Ms. Battaglia, would neither confirm nor deny the expected grand jury presentment in VanMetre's case.

Mr. Barnes' spokeswoman, Deputy State's Attorney Marcie S.

Wogan, would not say if Mr. Barnes was expected to attend the news conference.

A federal kidnapping charge carries a penalty of up to life in prison upon conviction.

If federal prosecutors prove that a person was killed during a kidnapping, the death penalty can be pursued, according to federal sentencing guidelines.

Bernard Blake, Ms. Blake's estranged husband, would not address a possible indictment, but said that he "really was hoping that justice finally will be served by this case going forward."

VanMetre is in a Pennsylvania prison serving a 15- to 35-year sentence for the 1991 kidnapping and rape of a Gettysburg-area woman. He has appealed that conviction.

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