Woman Convicted of Trying To Hire Hitman to Help Cheerleading Daughter
HOUSTON (AP) _ A jury Tuesday convicted a woman of trying to hire a hitman to kill the mother of her daughter’s cheerleading rival to further her own daughter’s cheerleading career.
Jurors deliberated about six hours before convicting Wanda Holloway, 37, of solicitation of murder. She could face up to life in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Mrs. Holloway, of Channelview, was convicted of trying to hire someone to kill Verna Heath. Prosecutors contended that Mrs. Holloway believed Mrs. Heath’s daughter, Amber, would be so distressed she would drop out of competition for the freshman cheerleading squad at Channelview High School.
The defense had attacked the credibility of the state’s star witness, who disclosed the plot to authorities.
Mrs. Holloway burst into tears after the verdict was read. Relatives and friends surrounded her, yelling at members of the media to stay away.
Mrs. Holloway also was charged with solicitation of aggravated kidnapping, but no verdict on the lesser charge was announced.
When jurors first told state District Judge George Godwin they had reached verdicts, he told them to reread the charges and reconsider their decision. The jury announced its verdict only on solicitation of murder 20 minutes later.
Attorneys on both sides said they couldn’t explain the circumstances of the jury’s decision because of a gag order Godwin imposed at the trial’s start. After Tuesday’s proceedings, Godwin would say only that jurors didn’t have to rule on both charges.
Jurors were to return to court Wednesday to begin the punishment phase of the trial.
In closing arguments earlier Tuesday, prosecutor Casey O’Brien replayed several segments of tapes of conversations secretly recorded for police by Mrs. Holloway’s former brother-in-law, Terry Harper, the state’s star witness.
″You listen to that tape. You don’t hear fear in her voice. You hear hate. She’s consumed with hate,″ O’Brien said.
On the tape, Harper asked Mrs. Holloway: ″If you don’t want to do it, I’ll understand.″
″It’s not that I don’t want to do it. I just have to get the money,″ Mrs. Holloway replied.
O’Brien said Mrs. Holloway’s contention that she was afraid of Harper or the hitman was ludicrous. The prosecutor said she was so intent on getting Harper to find a hitman she obtained such details about Mrs. Heath as the make of her car and license-plate numbers.
But defense attorney Stan Schneider told jurors the state did not prove its case against Mrs. Holloway.
″Terry Harper is unbelievable. He’s a liar,″ Schneider said, adding that none of the other witnesses corroborated Harper’s testimony.
″Without Terry Harper, Wanda Holloway is innocent. They can’t substantiate Terry Harper,″ Schneider said.
Mrs. Holloway’s daughter, Shanna Harper, lost a bid for a junior high cheerleading squad to Amber Heath in the seventh grade. And Shanna was disqualified from eighth-grade competition for illegal electioneering after distributing free rulers and pencils with her name printed on them.
Amber now is on the freshman cheerleading squad at Channelview High. Shanna didn’t try out for the squad this spring after her mother’s arrest.
Defense attorneys said Mrs. Holloway was framed by her ex-husband, Tony Harper, who is Terry Harper’s brother. Terry Harper’s estranged wife, Marla Harper, testified that he hoped to get back into the family’s good graces by helping Tony win custody of his two children from Mrs. Holloway. The two divorced in 1980.
Marla Harper said she heard her husband talking to his brother about the scheme in a New Year’s Eve telephone conversation. She said Terry Harper bragged that he would become rich and famous from the deal. Tony Harper testified that he and his brother have been approached by at least 20 filmmakers about selling the rights to the story.
Terry Harper has been married seven times, held 15 jobs during the past three years and has a string of minor convictions.
Tony Harper testified that he never wanted full custody of his children, but sought a modification of the custody agreement because he wanted the children to get counseling Mrs. Holloway was reluctant to provide.