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Ex-wife allowed to testify at W.Va. man's murder trial

April 01, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The ex-wife of a man charged with fatally slashing his girlfriend's throat in Charles Town last year will be allowed to testify in the man's murder trial next week, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. ruled Thursday.

Vernon Henderson Dunlap Sr. is scheduled to stand trial beginning Tuesday in the death of 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, 2004.

Her throat had been cut.

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

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Dunlap's former wife, Betty Yates, alleged in a previous interview that Dunlap had been abusive and obsessive.

Yates was stabbed by Dunlap in 1994 and Dunlap pleaded guilty to malicious wounding in connection with the case, according to Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

Dunlap was sentenced to two to 10 years, Games-Neely said.

Yates took the witness stand Thursday in Jefferson County Circuit Court to recount the attack from 11 years ago.

Yates said she was riding in a friend's car on March 24, 1994, in Berkeley County when Dunlap approached her friend's car from behind and ran the car off the road.

During the attack, which took place on Rock Cliff Drive, Dunlap broke a window on the car with his fist and started stabbing her, Yates testified.

Yates, who took long pauses as she recounted the attack, said she was stabbed in the neck and lower chest and that she suffered permanent damage from the attack.

"He always told me if I ever left him, he would kill me," said Yates.

Dunlap dragged Yates out of the car and put her in his car with the couple's three children, she said.

"He just started driving down the road toward Hedgesville," Yates testified.

Yates said previously in an interview that Dunlap dropped her off at a fire hall and drove away.

Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Gina Groh told Steptoe Thursday it is important for Yates to testify about Dunlap's attack on her because it shows Dunlap's behavior.

Groh said the attacks on Yates and Dodson are "very similar" and Dunlap demonstrated "obsessive behavior" toward the women.

Craig Manford, Dunlap's attorney, expressed concern about allowing Yates to testify, saying it could weigh heavily on the minds of jurors.

Generally, law dictates that a defendant only should be tried on an alleged incident and nothing else, Steptoe said.

Exceptions can be granted in some cases, Steptoe said.

In his ruling to allow Yates to testify, Steptoe called attention to the fact that the current case against Dunlap is a circumstantial case.

The state "needs all the evidence it can get," Steptoe said.

Groh said during the pretrial hearing Thursday that there was no forensic evidence linking Dunlap to Dodson's death.

Dodson's sister and two friends found her body lying face down on her living room floor, Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober has 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.

Dodson suffered an 8-inch cut to her throat and bled to death, police said.

Dunlap, whose last address was 312 Williams St., Martinsburg, W.Va., was hospitalized the same day Dodson's body was discovered. He 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., police said.

Inside the truck, police found two large kitchen knives, one which had blood on it, police alleged.

Dunlap was taken to City Hospital for treatment of pneumonia and was released.

Dunlap, who is being held without bond in the Eastern Regional Jail, was later indicted on a charge of first-degree murder by a Jefferson County grand jury.

Jury selection will begin Tuesday morning.

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