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Daughter takes stand in father's murder hearing

March 23, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Emotions ran high again in Jefferson County Magistrate Court during a preliminary hearing Monday for Vernon Henderson Dunlap, who was charged with murder after his girlfriend was found in her apartment last month with her throat cut.

Jennifer Leigh Dodson, 20, of 308 New Oak Tree Court, was found dead in her apartment at the Willow Spring Farm apartment complex off Prospect Avenue on Feb. 19.

The same day, Dunlap was found slumped over the wheel of his pick-up truck, which was locked and parked at the Princess Street boat ramp in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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Dunlap, 45, contracted pneumonia and was treated at City Hospital before he could be charged in Dodson's death.

Among the people testifying at the hearing was Dunlap's daughter, Tabitha Sanders.

Sanders began crying when she took the stand Monday. She recounted how she went to City Hospital to visit her father.

"I had some things that needed answered," Sanders said.

Sanders said she told her father he could spend the rest of his life in prison. She said he responded by saying, "I know."

"He said, 'I can't believe I did it,''' Sanders said.

Several Jefferson County Sheriff's Department deputies, as well as two court bailiffs, were in the courtroom. One man was escorted out of the courtroom after he snapped his fingers when Sanders was testifying.

Dunlap's preliminary hearing was scheduled for March 2, but it was continued to give defense attorneys more time in the case, including arranging a psychological examination for Dunlap.

Defense attorneys Tom Delaney and Jim Kent did not mention the examination Monday.

Tensions also were high on March 2 as outbursts were heard from one corner of the courtroom when Delaney asked for the psychological examination.

On Monday, Delaney focused on a problem Dodson was having with someone breaking into her apartment.

Kenneth Robinson, who is engaged to Dodson's sister, said Dodson was having trouble with the break-ins "a while back."

Dodson had the locks changed on her apartment, and Robinson used wooden boards to better secure some windows at her apartment, Robinson testified.

Robinson said Dodson's sister "worried about her all the time."

The hearing before Magistrate William Senseney lasted more than two hours Monday afternoon. It was continued to give Delaney more time to question investigators in the case.

Senseney agreed to continue the hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Dodson was found dead by her sister, Robinson and another friend.

Robinson said that when he entered Dodson's apartment, he found Dodson lying at the top of the stairs.

A 2-year-old child Dodson was baby-sitting was "running around the apartment," Robinson said.

Dodson's 1-year-old daughter also was found inside the apartment, unharmed in her crib, police have said.

Robinson called 911 and dispatchers suggested he turn Dodson over and attempt to administer cardio pulmonary resuscitation, according to testimony.

"I was blowing in her mouth and she was just cold," Robinson said.

The day before Dodson was found dead, Robinson said, he and several people were at Dodson's apartment looking at family pictures.

Dunlap was there, too, Robinson said. Dunlap looked at the pictures but did not say much, Robinson said.

Dunlap is being held without bond at Eastern Regional Jail.

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