Waitress's killer gets life in prison without parole


Saying James Howard VanMetre III didn't deserve to be a part of society ever again, Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. sentenced him to life in prison without parole for the 1991 murder of a Pennsylvania woman.

"Committing such a crime forfeits his right to ever walk among the free and civilized members of society," the judge said as he imposed the sentence.

A Carroll County jury convicted VanMetre April 16 of first-degree murder in the September 1991 strangulation of Holly Ann Blake, a 28-year-old waitress from Bonneauville, Pa.

According to testimony in his weeklong trial, VanMetre strangled Ms. Blake after she made a disparaging remark about his anatomy. Several hours after the slaying, VanMetre burned her body and spread her charred remains along the Monocacy River. The two had been on their first date.

Yesterday, VanMetre apologized to Ms. Blake's family, but none of her family members were in the courtroom.

"I do not consider myself an individual who would terrorize a neighborhood," VanMetre, restrained by shackles, said softly before Judge Beck sentenced him. "I'm trying to get my peace. I apologize to the Blake family. I apologize, but I was under a lot of stress and emotional strain."

VanMetre was expected to be back today in the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, Pa., the prison where he will await an appeal of his July conviction for raping a West Reading Township, Pa., woman several weeks before he killed Ms. Blake. He faces a prison term of at least 60 years in that crime.

VanMetre would serve any Pennsylvania sentence before serving his Maryland term, court officials said.

Carroll Assistant Public Defender Martha Ann Sitterding tried yesterday to convince Judge Beck to consider a sentence that would give VanMetre a chance for parole in 30 years.

"He's a human being and, at some point in the future, give someone a chance to review his case and judge him on who he is then," Ms. Sitterding implored the judge.

She argued that life without parole should be used sparingly, only on the most "heinous" of crimes. She suggested that VanMetre's strangling of Ms. Blake was not heinous because it occurred in a fit of rage.

Carroll Deputy State's Attorney Edward M. Ulsch balked at the suggestion, as he did during the trial when Ms. Sitterding argued that her client should be found guilty of manslaughter.

"It was not second-degree murder, it was not manslaughter," Mr. Ulsch said. "This was a case that rose to bizarre proportions. It was a dastardly deed."

He spent nearly 10 minutes recounting details of the crime for Judge Beck.

"The maximum sentence in this case is well deserved by Mr. VanMetre."

VanMetre's conviction will be appealed, Ms. Sitterding said later. The appellate division of the state public defender's office will file on his behalf, resurrecting arguments made in pretrial hearings. At those hearings, VanMetre's attorneys contended that prosecutors violated Maryland's trial scheduling rule.

If the Court of Special Appeals agrees that the rule -- which calls for trials within 180 days of an attorney's involvement in a case -- was violated, the conviction could be overturned.

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