CLEARFIELD – An infamous murderer now has the possibility of being released on parole.
Jessica Nicole Holtmeyer, was 16 years old in 1998 when she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without a chance for parole for the death of Kimberly Dotts.
On Friday, Holtmeyer’s original sentence was vacated by Senior Judge Daniel L. Howsare of Bedford County and she was re-sentenced to 35 years to life in prison for first-degree murder, 10 to 20 years for criminal conspiracy/murder and for aggravated assault she received three to 10 years in state prison.
The two additional sentences will run concurrent with the murder sentence. She will receive credit for all the times she has served since 1998 leaving her eligible for parole in approximately 15 years.
Testimony in Holtmeyer’s trial revealed that she and Aaron Straw hanged Dotts twice because they were afraid she was going to snitch on their plans to run away to Florida.
Holtmeyer, now 36, was also convicted of smashing Dotts’ face with a basketball-sized rock while the girl lay convulsing on the ground after the second hanging.
The Holtmeyer case was reopened on appeal because of a Supreme Court ruling that declared it unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without a chance of parole.
In June of 2017, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder can only be given life without parole sentences in rare cases when “the juvenile offender is permanently incorrigible and thus is unable to be rehabilitated,” according to court documents.
During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Howsare reviewed the steps he took in evaluating this case, including his review of relevant court documents, hearing testimony from people who work with Holtmeyer at the prison, reading briefs provided by both sides and reviewing the original victim impact statements from the Dotts family.
The victim’s mother, Jody Dotts addressed the court, explaining how hard this was for her and her family to lose Kimberly and how they have suffered. She was concerned that Holtmeyer has not shown any repentance.
“It has been 19 years and we still have seen no remorse,” she said.
The judge reviewed the Commonwealth’s recommendation for the 35-year to life sentence for the murder charge that included Howsare keeping her original consecutive sentence of 20 to 40 years for the conspiracy charges.
On the other side, Howsare mentioned it was the defense’s position that Holtmeyer has already been rehabilitated and asked for her to be eligible for immediate parole or at least parole at the earliest possible date.
The judge decided to vacate Holtmeyer’s entire sentence, saying the long sentence on the conspiracy charge was “not justified”
Among the things he considered were the testimonies of state prison employees, one of which said Holtmeyer “is better prepared for re-entering society than anyone else” at a hearing in July. (for the full story on this hearing click here)
“It has not been an easy decision for me,” Howsare stated, adding that without the information on her rehabilitation, he would have had no problem giving her life in prison without parole.
“I recognize this makes no one happy,” he said. But then stated he felt this decision was consistent with the information on the original case and her current behavior at the prison.
“This gives you a reprieve and I trust you will take advantage of this,” he said to Holtmeyer, who appeared via video conference.
When she was asked if she had anything to say, Holtmeyer said no.
In an interview after the hearing, District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. stated he was hoping for Howsare to keep the original consecutive sentences on the additional charges, which were Judge John Reilly’s decision, but respected that Howsare was following the current laws.
“He (Howsare) said we shouldn’t use (the additional charges) as a way to impose a life sentence.”
He commented that it is “virtually impossible” to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without parole for murder now because it is difficult to prove someone can’t be rehabilitated.
Patrick Lavelle, who is representing Holtmeyer, said after the hearing that he was disappointed by the murder sentence but was happy the additional sentences were made concurrent.
“I think she will be successful when she gets out,” he said.
He noted he was satisfied the judge had considered everything in this case and referred to it as “a tough decision” and appreciated the work Howsare put into it.
He noted that he is continuing to represent Holtmeyer and will file a post-sentence motion in the case asking the judge to reconsider the maximum sentence of life in prison for the murder charge.