Mother Accused of Hiring Hit Man to Help Daughter Make Cheerleader
CHANNELVIEW, Texas (AP) _ Even Johnny Carson has joked about it, Principal James Barker notes: ″Give me a ‘C’; Give me an ‘H’; Give me a gun.″
The positive aspects of Johnson Junior High School rarely receive much attention, Barker says, ″But, you know, you put out a hit contract and - wow 3/8 - Paris and London want to know about it.″
Authorities say Wanda Webb Holloway is the ″ultimate stage mother,″ so intent on having her 13-year-old daughter Shanna Harper make the cheerleading squad that she tried to hire a hit man to kill the mother of a rival.
Harris County Sheriff’s Detective George Helton said Mrs. Holloway ″would go to almost any length, apparently, to further the career and popularity of her daughter. She’s an overachiever-type mother. The impression I got is the mother is living her life through the daughter.″
Mrs. Holloway, 36, has pleaded innocent to a charge of solicitation of capital murder and is free on $10,000 bond. Her trial has been set for June 10. If convicted, she faces five years to life in prison.
Investigators say Mrs. Holloway contacted her former brother-in-law, Terry Lynn Harper, in January to find someone to kill Verna Heath before the spring cheerleader tryouts for future ninth-graders.
She originally offered $7,500 for a hit man to kill both Mrs. Heath and her daughter, Amber, they say, but later agreed to pay $2,500 to kill only Mrs. Heath since she believed the girl would be so overcome with grief that she would drop out of the competition.
Prosecutors say Harper, who has a prior felony conviction, contacted authorities about the deal and that an undercover officer posed as the hit man.
In a recorded conversation, Mrs. Holloway offered the officer a pair of diamond earrings supposedly valued at $1,500 as a down payment, they say.
In the month since the Feb. 1 arrest, Shanna and her 17-year-old brother Anthony have begun therapy, and their father, Tony Harper, sued for custody. After a three-hour meeting in court last week, Harper and Mrs. Holloway agreed to joint custody.
″Her life has been turned upside down,″ Mrs. Holloway’s attorney, Troy McKinney, said of his client.
He denied the police’s and prosecutors’ allegations, but would not discuss them in detail.
″All I can say is there’s a whole lot more to it than what’s been published,″ he said.
Neither Shanna nor Amber Heath came to school for more than a week after Mrs. Holloway’s arrest, but now have resumed their normal eighth-grade schedules at the school in Channelview, a blue-collar industrial suburb on Houston’s east side.
″She wouldn’t take to anybody at first,″ classmate Amanda Rymer, 13, said of Shanna. ″They were all looking at her. I think most people felt more sympathetic towards Amber. But her friends acted regular and now everything’s back to normal.″
″It amazes me,″ said Barker, the principal. ″The kids here have handled it well. And there was not one parent phone call on this.
″But there have been hundreds from everybody from Geraldo to Oprah, the London Mail, Bowling Green - and even Johnny Carson did a joke about it.″
″I think the students realize this is not the student’s doing. It is the parent’s,″ said Assistant Principal Ida Gilbert. ″This child had nothing to do with what the parent did.″
″Everybody was shocked,″ recalled Jeremy Anthony, 13, a former neighbor. ″My brother used to go with Shanna and we would go over to their house all the time. It really surprised me. I mean, her mother was all nice and everything.″
″Every time I’d walk in the hall, I’d hear, ‘I’m surprised that Shanna’s mom would do that,’ ″ said Bobbi Mackie, 12.
Both girls are good students and popular with their classmates, students said. While they are friends, school officials say they ″move in different circles.″
″All of us love them here,″ Jeremy said. ″When Shanna first came back, people were shocked. But she’s got her friends back now.″
Shanna had tried out for the nine-girl Johnson Hornets cheerleading squad in the seventh grade, but was cut.
After passing the preliminary tryouts with judges last year, she was disqualified during the student election process after her mother distributed prohibited promotional materials to her classmates.
″Mr. Harper had made up some rulers and pencils at the suggestion of his ex-wife with the words ‘Vote for Shanna’ on them,″ said Paula Gavrel Asher, the attorney representing Harper in the custody case. ″But when school officials said she couldn’t use them, Mrs. Holloway took it upon herself to attach them to posters and distribute them, and Shanna was disqualified. And once again, little Amber was the winner.″
High school sports are enormously popular in Texas, particularly football, which often can be the center of small-town life.
″I think cheerleading is very important to a lot of young ladies because they prepare for it for several years,″ Ms. Gilbert said. ″If they are a cheerleader here at the junior high school, they certainly have a better chance of making the high school team.″
Amanda Rymer, the girls’ classmate, said Shanna wasn’t as distressed about losing as her mother.
″I don’t think Shanna thought anything about it,″ she said. ″But her mom, she expects so much out of her. I mean, her mom just had a big cow. She was mad.″