It was the kind of courtroom testimony that can devastate a defendant.
Wearing a blue-flowered dress trimmed with white lace, a petite, deeply religious woman described for jurors in federal court yesterday how James Howard Van Metre III kidnapped her, held a hunting knife against her throat and raped her in a remote field.
A Mennonite from Pennsylvania, the woman said she stared at the treetops while Van Metre raped her on the ground next to his car. She said she asked God to forgive her attacker.
"I remember looking at the treetops and praying to God and saying, 'Why are you letting this happen to me?' " said the woman, her voice steady and soft as she testified a dozen feet away from Van Metre in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. "God gave me compassion on him, and I told him God would give him purpose in his life."
That compassion may have saved her life. Another woman lost hers.
Eleven days after the rape, Van Metre took Holly Ann Blake from a Pennsylvania truck stop and strangled her on a Maryland farm after she ridiculed the size of his genitalia. He then burned the body of the 28-year-old mother to cinders and dumped her ashes into a river.
Van Metre is charged with kidnapping Blake -- taking her across the state line from Gettysburg, Pa., to Harney, a small farming community in Carroll County. By introducing the case of the Mennonite woman, federal prosecutors are trying to show a pattern, that Van Metre intended to kidnap Blake when he picked her up Sept. 26, 1991, and strangled her that day.
A Carroll County jury convicted Van Metre of Blake's murder in 1993, but an appellate court acquitted him, ruling that state prosecutors violated his rights by failing to bring him to trial within 180 days of his arrest. Though his attorney admits Van Metre killed Blake, Van Metre cannot be tried again for the slaying.
If convicted of kidnapping, he could receive a life sentence without parole. The trial is scheduled to conclude next week.
Van Metre is serving a 15 1/2 -to-35-year sentence for raping the Mennonite woman. Last month, prosecutors allege, he tried to arrange the contract killing of the woman from his jail cell. He faces separate felony charges in that case.
The rape victim -- who was 30 years old at the time of the attack -- testified yesterday that she was sleeping in her Pennsylvania home Sept. 15, 1991, when she saw a flashlight shining through the darkness. She then felt someone's hands tighten around her throat.
"I said, 'Jesus, Jesus,' " the woman said, wearing traditional Mennonite white lace veiling on her head to comply with a biblical passage from First Corinthians, which commands women to keep their heads covered. "He put his hands around my neck and started squeezing."
Van Metre, 38, a drifter who trimmed trees for a living, rocked in his seat next to the witness stand, clasping his hands before his face, showing no emotion or remorse. His lawyers declined to cross-examine the woman.
She testified that Van Metre took her outside, walked her down a farm path and forced her into a car. She said he drove to a clearing, tied her hands behind her back, put a hunting knife to her throat and raped her three times.
In between, he took breaks to smoke cigarettes and talk about committing suicide. She said she told him God loved him and he needed Jesus in his life.
Van Metre drove the woman home, apologizing for his crime.
"I got down by my bed," she told the jurors in the silence of the courtroom. "I prayed and thanked God for bringing me home."
Pub Date: 5/23/96