CLEARFIELD – A recent court ruling could mean that four Clearfield County teenagers convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole will be eligible for release.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders,” according to court documents. Earlier this year, the court went a step further and made this retroactive, thus affecting all previous cases.
District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. had this to say about this ruling, “It is unfair to the family of victims to reopen these cases and argue issues that have already been resolved. Family members are entitled to closure and the court’s ruling fails to provide that closure. ”
This is devastating news to the families who lost loved ones and have feared for years that this might happen. This includes the family of Kimberly Dotts, who was the victim of a murder that occurred in Bradford Township in May of 1998.
According to previously published reports, two teens, Jessica Holtmeyer, then 16, now 35, of Clearfield, and Aaron Straw, then 18, of Olanta, were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for Dotts’ death.
Testimony at their trials revealed that Holtmeyer and Straw hanged Dotts twice because they were afraid she was going to snitch on their plans to run away to Florida. Holtmeyer was also convicted of smashing Dotts’ face with a basketball-sized rock while the girl lay convulsing on the ground after the second hanging.
Holtmeyer’s case was discussed in motions court in June when President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman ruled on a motion by Holtmeyer’s attorney, Patrick Lavelle, for a stay of action on her Post Conviction Relief Act petition.
Ammerman stated that although the Supreme Court has decided this ruling is retroactive, no instructions have been made on how to proceed for those that are eligible for this appeal. “There has been speculation on what we can actually do,” he said.
Lavelle was asking for the PCRA to be put on hold until a procedure is established. He commented that some inmates are hiring specialists to handle this situation.
Ammerman granted Lavelle’s motion and noted that this U.S. Supreme Court ruling will impact three other Clearfield County cases. Those cases that all have appeals pending are:
Andrew Callahan, then 17 now 35, was convicted of the murder of Micah Pollock in 1998. He was also convicted in two additional trials (2007 and 2010) after his appeals for new trials were granted.
This murder took place in Pine Run, Beccaria Township. Testimony in the trial included information that Callahan had threatened to kill his Glendale High School classmate, Pollock, if he did not stay away from his ex-girlfriend.
The day after shooting Pollock in the back, Callahan returned to where he had buried Pollock with pine branches. He tried to stuff the body in a garbage can but when it did not fit, he tied it to a vehicle and dragged it to a beaver pond where he dumped it.
Daniel L. Crispell, then 18, now 45, was convicted of murder, kidnapping, robbery, and related charges in June of 1990 and given the death penalty. The charges stem from an October of 1989 incident in which Crispell and Christopher Weatherill abducted Ella M. Brown, 48, at the DuBois Mall. Her body was found a day later in Sandy Township about four miles north of DuBois. She had been stabbed to death.
Timothy Hanson, then 15, now 44, was convicted of criminal homicide after a jury trial on June 24, 1988, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. According to court documents, on Dec. 24, 1987, Hanson, who was on the run from a juvenile facility, shot and killed David Smith at a residence in Philipsburg.