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Key Witness Credibility Attacked in Homemaker’s Trial In Hitman Plot

August 29, 1991

HOUSTON (AP) _ The credibility of the key prosecution witness was attacked Thursday in the trial of a woman accused of plotting to do away with the mother of her daughter’s cheerleading rival, hoping to distract the competition.

Wanda Holloway says she was framed by her ex-husband and his brother, who taped conversations of the alleged plot for police. Both men testified Thursday.

Mrs. Holloway, 37, a homemaker in the working-class Channelview suburb, is accused of plotting the kidnapping or killing of Verna Heath, 38. A conviction could send Mrs. Holloway to prison for life.

Prosecutors allege Mrs. Holloway believed Amber Heath’s distress at her mother’s death or disappearance would compel the girl to drop out of the freshman cheerleading competitions, giving Mrs. Holloway’s daughter, Shanna Harper, a better shot at the squad. Both girls are 13 and in the ninth grade.

Terry Harper, the key witness, acknowledged under cross-examination differences between his court testimony this week and in depositions taken months ago.

He said he’s had a lot on his mind.

″My memory was a whole lot better in February than it is now,″ Harper said, referring to the time of the depositions.

Harper testified he has been married seven times, and in the past three years held 15 jobs.

In previous testimony, Harper said he made six secret tapes of conversations in which Mrs. Holloway asked him to find a hitman to kill Mrs. Heath.

When asked Thursday if he was the first to mention kidnapping to Mrs. Holloway, Harper replied, ″I guess that’s a possibility.″

″Each time I had a conversation with Wanda, they (detectives) told me different things,″ Harper said. ″I did my best to tell them what they needed to know.″

Marla Harper, Terry’s estranged wife, testified Wednesday that Terry Harper and his brother, Tony Harper, framed Mrs. Holloway. Their aim was to help Tony Harper get custody of the two children he had with Mrs. Holloway, Mrs. Harper said.

Wanda and Tony Harper divorced in 1980 and she won custody of Shanna and Anthony Shane Harper, 18.

After Mrs. Holloway’s arrest Jan. 30, Tony Harper was awarded joint custody.

″This whole thing wasn’t to get custody of his kids, they’re almost grown,″ Terry Harper said Thursday.

Tony Harper, who testified as an adverse defense witness, generally echoed his brother’s recollection of events. He also denied wanting custody of his children.

Asked his reaction to hearing of his ex-wife’s alleged involvement a murder-for-hire plot, Tony Harper said, ″I was somewhat shocked but not totally surprised. I wouldn’t put it past her.″

Harper said Mrs. Holloway initially contacted him last fall after Shanna Harper was disqualified from the Alice Johnson Junior High School cheerleader squad. The girl was excluded at the outset because she gave out pencils and rulers imprinted with her name to get students to vote for her.

Amber Heath was a cheerleader in junior high and is now on the squad at Channelview High School.

Shanna Harper didn’t try out for the squad this spring after her mother’s arrest.

The brothers differed on one point in their testimony.

″I’m doing this to save a woman’s and girl’s life from a woman who wanted them killed,″ Terry Harper testified. ″I don’t expect to make money.″

But Tony Harper later said he fielded at least 20 offers for movie rights, that he had a lawyer handling a possible movie deal and that Terry was unhappy about his percentage of profits.

Defense attorneys produced three character witnesses who described the Harper brothers as untrustworthy.

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