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Martinsburg, W.Va., man charged in woman's death

February 21, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

An arrest warrant was issued Thursday charging a Martinsburg, W.Va., man with first-degree murder after police allege he cut his girlfriend's throat because he did not want her to end their relationship, court records state.

Vernon Henderson Dunlap Sr., 45, of 312 Williams St. in Martinsburg, was taken to a local hospital Thursday morning after he was found slumped over the wheel of his pickup truck, according to the arrest warrant filed in Jefferson County Magistrate Court.

Jefferson County Sheriff Ed Boober said that Dunlap, who did not suffer any apparent physical injuries, was under police guard at the hospital. By presstime, a magistrate had not yet formally arraigned Dunlap on the murder charge.

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Dunlap's girlfriend, Jennifer Leigh Dodson, 20, of 308 New Oak Tree Court in the Willow Spring Farm apartment complex, was found dead inside her apartment around 9 a.m. Thursday. The apartment complex is off Prospect Avenue, just outside Charles Town's city limits.

Dodson's sister and two friends found her body lying face down on her living room floor, Boober said.

The women had gone to the apartment to pick up a 2-year-old child Dodson was baby-sitting. Dodson's 1-year-old daughter also was found inside the apartment, unharmed in her crib, Boober said.

Boober said that friends and family members told police that Dodson and Dunlap were having a sexual relationship, but that Dodson had been trying to end it.

"The suspect had become obsessive about the relationship, wanted an emotional commitment with the victim and did not want their relationship to end," court records state.

The two were seen alone together around 10:15 p.m. Wednesday in Dodson's apartment, records state.

They had been seeing each other for a couple of months, Boober said, and met because of the close proximity of their workplaces. Dodson worked at Fertig Cabinet Co. and Dunlap worked at Newbraugh's, a lumber and hardware store. Both businesses are on Winchester Avenue south of Martinsburg.

An autopsy was performed on Dodson's body at the state medical examiner's office in Charleston, W.Va., but Boober said the results are not yet available. She suffered no obvious injuries other than the wound to her throat, he said.

About an hour before Dodson's body was found, Dunlap was found unconscious in his Ford Ranger, which was locked and parked at the Princess Street boat ramp in Shepherdstown, W.Va., police said. Inside Dunlap's truck, Deputy M.A. Dumer found two large kitchen knives, one of which had blood on the blade, police said.

Police said the knives had black plastic handles and looked like ones found in Dodson's apartment.

Ten years ago, Dunlap was charged with malicious wounding in Berkeley County after he stabbed his then-wife numerous times in the neck and chest. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced in May 1996 to serve two to 10 years in a state penitentiary.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely, who handled that case, said she is not sure exactly how long Dunlap stayed in prison, but said it may have been around five years.

Games-Neely said the case, which she remembers well, had similar elements to the latest allegations, including the fact that Dunlap's then-wife wanted to leave him.

According to court records, on March 24, 1994, Dunlap rammed and forced a car in which his wife was riding off the road. Dunlap broke the window on the passenger's side of the car, ripped his wife's clothes and stabbed her numerous times.

The couple's children, who at that time were 8, 9 and 12, witnessed the stabbing. Dunlap pulled his wife and the three children from the car, put them in his station wagon and then drove to the Hedgesville Volunteer Fire Department. After letting his wife out, she was taken to City Hospital and later flown to another hospital for treatment.

At first, out of fear and worry for her children, Dunlap's wife wanted the charges reduced to misdemeanors. Later, though, she told Games-Neely moving forward with the felony charge was the right thing to do, Games-Neely said.

"We had a hard time making her understand he could've killed her," Games-Neely said.

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