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Jury - No mercy for Dunlap

April 14, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Several bailiffs and police officers had to wrestle Roger Dodson to the floor of a Jefferson County courtroom Wednesday after Dodson started running toward the man convicted of killing his youngest daughter.

"Don't hurt him!" Dodson's family screamed as the officers put him on the floor and handcuffed his wrists behind his back.

The officers stopped Dodson before he got close to Vernon H. Dunlap Sr., who sat beside his attorney throughout the attempted attack.

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After standing up Dodson, two of the officers rubbed his back and tried to calm him down by reassuring him that Dunlap will never be released from prison.

Dodson had blood on the back of his white shirt, but as the officers told Dodson's wife, it was not his. A deputy's ear was cut during the scuffle.

Dodson was escorted from the courtroom and released.

"See what you did to us?" one of Jennifer Leigh Dodson's sisters screamed to Dunlap.

When the same woman yelled that Dunlap has shown no remorse, Dunlap quickly wiped his nose and stared straight ahead.

On Wednesday afternoon - before Roger Dodson ran toward Dunlap - jurors in the case heard from three character witnesses and deliberated for 20 minutes before deciding not to add mercy to Dunlap's life sentence. The jury's decision means Dunlap will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance for parole.

On Tuesday, the same jury found Dunlap, 46, guilty of first-degree murder in Jennifer Dodson's death. Her throat had been cut and her body was found in her Charles Town apartment Feb. 19, 2004.

Appeal planned

After the jury returned its no-mercy recommendation, jurors were released and Circuit Judge Thomas Steptoe said he wanted to immediately sentence Dunlap.

State law requires that victims or a family representative be allowed to address the judge, even in cases like Dunlap's where a jury has already determined the required sentence.

Joy Dodson, Jennifer Dodson's aunt, addressed Steptoe on behalf of the family.

Joy Dodson spoke of the 2-year-old daughter, Brianna, that her niece left behind.

"She will never see her baby grow up to be a strong young woman as she was," Joy Dodson said of her niece. "She was a very kind and loving girl. She never did anyone any harm. She always tried to help and love people."

Joy Dodson said that her brother - Jennifer Dodson's father - will never be able to see his youngest daughter's face again, hug her or tell her how proud he is of her.

At that time, Roger Dodson started trembling, muttering unintelligibly and pounding one of his feet on the floor.

"Mercy? God will have mercy ...," Joy Dodson started to say but was interrupted when her brother stood up and started running forward.

It took several minutes for order to be restored in the room.

Once the room was again quiet, Steptoe resumed his seat on the bench. He made no mention of the outburst, but instead formally sentenced Dunlap to spend the rest of his life in a state prison.

Manford said after the proceedings that he plans to ask for a new trial. If that motion is not granted, Manford said he plans to appeal the case to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

Manford said he disagreed with the jury's verdict but respects its work on the case.

One of the aspects of his appeal, Manford said, will be the fact that Dunlap's ex-wife was allowed to testify about an attempt Dunlap made to kill her in 1994.

Normally such evidence of "prior bad acts" is not allowed to be presented, but Steptoe permitted it in Dunlap's case.

Ex-wife recounts abuse

Dunlap once held his 15-month-old son over a stove and threatened to burn him if his wife left him, according to testimony from Dunlap's ex-wife, Betty Yates. She also testified that he abandoned his oldest daughter for several minutes in a school parking lot and placed a burning telephone book on his son's chest.

Bolstering the state's case that mercy should not be granted, Yates described her 14-year marriage to Dunlap as one filled with abuse and fear.

Dunlap, who did not testify during the trial or sentencing phase, shook his head in apparent disagreement during several of Yates' allegations.

Yates said that on another occasion, her oldest daughter accidentally broke a window in their house. Scared that her father was going to kill her, the girl went to her room and wrote out a "will" in which she left her belongings to her younger sister and brother.

Yates said she called her brother, who walked across town to fix the window before Dunlap came home.

Yates said she remained married to Dunlap despite the abuse because she was afraid he would hurt her or their children.

"He told me if I ever left him, he'd kill me," she said.

On March 24, 1994, a day after Yates did leave, Dunlap ran the car in which she was riding off the road and broke the passenger side window, records state. He then stabbed her several times and tried to cut her throat, but inadvertently had the back side of the blade against her neck, according to records.

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