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Probable cause found in W.Va. murder hearing

March 25, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Jefferson County magistrate ruled Wednesday there was probable cause to send the case of a man charged with murder to Circuit Court for possible grand jury indictment.

Magistrate William Senseney ruled there was probable cause to continue the case against Vernon Henderson Dunlap Sr., 45, who is charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend, Jennifer Leigh Dodson.

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.


Sgt. Sam Harmon of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department testified Wednesday that Dodson suffered an 8-inch cut to her throat.

Dodson, who bled to death, was found lying on a living room floor, her body partially covered by a bed comforter, investigators testified during the hearing.

The same day Dodson's body was discovered, Dunlap was found slumped over the wheel of his pickup truck, which was locked and parked at the Princess Street boat ramp in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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

Dunlap was being held without bond in the Eastern Regional Jail.

Under questioning Wednesday by defense attorney Tom Delaney, Harmon testified that there had been two other suspects in the case, including a former boyfriend of Dodson's and a man who was suspected of trying to get into her apartment.

Investigators determined that Dodson's former boyfriend was in North Carolina at the time of her death and that the man suspected of trying to get into her apartment was with his girlfriend at the time of Dodson's death, Harmon said.

Before Senseney's ruling, Larry Crofford, a Jefferson County assistant prosecutor, alluded to a 1994 case when Dunlap was charged and convicted of stabbing his former wife, calling attention to Dunlap's "temper and propensity to violence."

Betty Yates, of Martinsburg, W.Va., has said things had gone awry in her marriage to Dunlap and that he had threatened to kill her and her children.

On March 24, 1994, Yates and her three children were passengers in a friend's car when Dunlap punched out the passenger side window and began stabbing her in the neck, according to Yates and news reports.

Dunlap later pleaded guilty to one count of malicious wounding and was sentenced to two to 10 years, said Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

The case against Dunlap has been an emotional affair at times, and on Monday, the first day of Dunlap's preliminary hearing, Dunlap's daughter cried on the stand when she recounted going to see her father at City Hospital after Dodson was found dead.

Tabitha Sanders said she told her father he could spend his life in prison.

Sanders said her father responded by saying "I know."

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

The hearing was continued until Wednesday to give defense attorneys time to question sheriff's department investigators.

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