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Teen Found Guilty in Lynching

January 28, 1999

CLEARFIELD, Pa. (AP) _ A 16-year-old girl was convicted Thursday of hanging a learning-disabled teen-ager and bashing the gasping girl’s face with a rock so she wouldn’t tattle about a plan to run away to Florida.

Jessica Holtmeyer could get life in prison for the killing of Kimberly Jo Dotts, 15. Prosecutors dropped their plans to seek the death penalty against Ms. Holtmeyer at the request of Kimberly’s family.

``We didn’t feel she should get the death penalty,″ said Jodi Dotts, Kimberly’s mother. ``When you’re on death row, you’re there so long with nothing to bother you. In jail, she’ll be with the murderers and rapists. We thought the death penalty would be too easy for her.″

The jury deliberated less than a day and found Ms. Holtmeyer guilty of murder, aggravated assault and conspiracy.

Ms. Holtmeyer and her mother cried and shook as the verdict was read. Her mother had to be escorted out of the courtroom.

Kimberly, a short, overweight girl, was hoping to make friends when she was invited to sleep over at another teen-ager’s house last May. But she found herself in the woods with a group of kids she barely knew who were planning to run away to Florida.

Someone complained that Kimberly might snitch on them. A noose was pulled over her head, the other end slung over a maple branch, and Ms. Holtmeyer and 18-year-old Aaron Straw yanked on the rope with all their strength, witnesses said.

Then, witnesses said, after Kimberly’s body dropped to the ground, Ms. Holtmeyer smashed the girl’s face with a basketball-sized rock.

Dawn Lanager, 15, told the jury that Ms. Holtmeyer laughed after the hanging and later said she wanted to ``cut Kim up, scatter her all over the woods and keep one of her fingers as a souvenir.″

Straw also testified against Ms. Holtmeyer, after District Attorney Paul Cherry said he would consider not asking for the death penalty against him. Ms. Lanager and two other teens who testified had murder charges against them dropped, and their cases were handled in the juvenile system.

Ms. Holtmeyer’s attorney, Bryan S. Walk, said the teens were liars who traded outlandish stories for lesser charges.

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