W.Va. slaying suspect has violent past

February 24, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Betty Yates of Martinsburg said she was 16 when she married Vernon Henderson Dunlap Sr. Even before they were married, she said, she knew he was abusive and obsessive.

Dunlap, 45, of Martinsburg, W.Va., was charged in an arrest warrant with first-degree murder Thursday in connection with the stabbing death of Jennifer Leigh Dodson, 20, of New Oak Tree Court in Charles Town.

Yates, 40, who since has remarried, recounted in a telephone interview Saturday the days before she was stabbed in the neck by her former husband, and the years she lived in fear after the attack.


She said that in late March 1994, things had gone awry with her marriage. Dunlap was threatening her, and he was breaking furniture and threatening to kill her and her children, she said.

Yates said she reached the point where she believed he would kill her if she stayed, and he would try to kill her if she left.

On March 23, 1994, she decided to go.

"I would rather at least try and leave," Yates said.

The same day, she got a restraining order against her husband and took her three children with her, she said.

The next day, she was a passenger in her friend's car with her three children inside. The car was struck and disabled. Dunlap, according to news reports and Yates' version Saturday, punched out the passenger's side window and began stabbing her in the neck.

Yates' son, the youngest of her children, was 8 at the time, she said. The boy received wounds to his hands, as well.

Dunlap dragged Yates and her three children out of the car and put them in his car. Dunlap dropped Yates off at a nearby fire hall. The boy ran and hid. Dunlap took the girls and drove away.

Dunlap was indicted two months later on four counts of kidnapping, two counts of malicious wounding and attempted murder in connection with the incident, according to news reports at the time. He was released on $7,500 bond.

Because of court delays and setbacks with the trial, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said Saturday that the eventual outcome was postponed for two years. Games-Neely said Dunlap pleaded guilty to one count of malicious wounding and was sentenced to two to 10 years. She said he went to prison in mid-1996.

In the meantime, Yates said, she received up to 60 phone calls a day from Dunlap. She said on a good day, she only received 30 calls. He would show up at supermarkets, at school, where she was pursuing her high school equivalency, and other places.

Games-Neely said she recalled it as a hectic time, and she tried to convince Yates that she needed to pursue charges.

"We said, 'Look. He's gonna kill you,'" Games-Neely said.

Yates recalls it differently, nearly 10 years later. She said she remembers being the one trying to convince authorities about her situation.

"I was petrified. I knew he was going to kill me," Yates said.

Dunlap was paroled in November 1998, according to Wyetta Fredericks, deputy commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Corrections.

Yates said that after Dunlap was released, she continued to worry.

Yates said she never had direct contact with Dunlap again, but her oldest daughter kept in touch with him, and he sometimes leveled threats against Yates through her daughter.

Yates said she took those threats seriously.

In the days after the new charges were filed against Dunlap, Yates said the memories of that day of terror in 1994 have come flooding back.

"The only thing I can say is, if you're in a situation and you want to end a relationship because of abuse, obsession or just because you don't want to be in it, make arrangements with a family member, a friend, whoever you can make arrangements with, break it off the best you can," Yates said. "And be out of sight for a while."

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