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  1. #1

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    James W. VanDivner, Jr. - Pennsylvania Death Row


    James W. VanDivner, Jr.


    Facts of the Crime:

    Convicted in the 2004 murder of Michelle Cable by grabbing her by the hair and shooting her in the head.

    VanDivner was sentenced to death in Fayette County on February 12, 2007.

  2. #2

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    January 30, 2009

    Death penalty upheld for Pa. man who killed ex

    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for a man who fatally shot his ex-girlfriend and wounded her son in July 2004.

    Attorneys for 59-year-old James VanDivner Jr., of Brownsville, have argued for a lesser sentence saying he was intoxicated and has an IQ of 66, which is considered mildly mentally retarded.

    A divided court upheld the death penalty, saying his attorneys didn't have enough evidence to show when he was classified as mentally retarded.

    The court was unanimous in upholding VanDivner's 1st-degree murder conviction in February 2007.

    VanDivner killed Michelle Cable and wounded her 18-year-old son. When he tried to shoot a neighbor, the gun jammed.

    (source: The Associated Press)

  3. #3

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    June 29, 2010

    Fayette man to be executed for 2004 murder

    Gov. Ed Rendell has signed an execution warrant for a 61-year-old Fayette County man on death row who lost his state Supreme Court argument that he is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally retarded.

    The death warrant for James W. VanDivner, a Point Marion truck driver, was among four signed Friday by Rendell.

    In 2007, VanDivner was found guilty of the July 5, 2004, execution-style slaying of his former girlfriend, Michelle Cable, 41, outside her home in Grindstone.

    VanDivner grabbed Michelle Cable by the hair and fired one bullet behind his former girlfriend's left ear, according to witnesses.

    "And he looked at her and said, 'There, you (expletive), I told you I'd kill you,' and then he smiled," Cable's daughter, Jessica, then 18, testified at VanDivner's trial in February 2007.

    VanDivner also shot Cable's teenage son, Billy, who survived a bullet wound of his spine.

    VanDivner was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

    His execution was scheduled for Aug. 17. He is housed in the State Correctional Institution at Graterford.

    In 2009 in a divided opinion, the appellate court ruled that Fayette Judge Gerald Solomon appropriately denied VanDivner's efforts to block the death penalty.

    The court said VanDivner's attorneys were unable to provide sufficient evidence establishing the onset of mental retardation before age 18.

    VanDivner cited a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the execution of a mentally retarded defendant is cruel and unusual punishment

    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_688103.html

  4. #4

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    July 8, 2010

    A federal judge has stayed the execution of a Fayette County man so his attorneys can challenge the constitutionality of his conviction and death sentence.

    Last month, Gov. Ed Rendell signed an execution warrant for James W. VanDivner, 61, who lost his state Supreme Court argument last year seeking a new trial for killing his former girlfriend in 2004.

    VanDivner has argued that he is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally retarded. His execution was scheduled for Aug. 17.

    Assistant federal public defenders Anna Ahronheim and Kirk J. Henderson asked for the stay to "properly litigate" VanDivner's conviction and death sentence in the federal courts. U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson approved the motion June 30.

    VanDivner, a Point Marion truck driver, was found guilty of the July 5, 2004, execution-style slaying of his former girlfriend, Michelle Cable, 41, outside her home in Grindstone.

    VanDivner grabbed Cable by the hair and fired one bullet behind her left ear, according to witnesses.

    "And he looked at her and said, 'There, you (expletive), I told you I'd kill you,' and then he smiled," Cable's daughter, Jessica, then 18, testified at VanDivner's trial in February 2007.

    VanDivner also shot Cable's teenage son, Billy, who survived a bullet wound to the spine.

    VanDivner was sentenced to death by lethal injection. He is housed in the State Correctional Institution at Graterford.

    In a divided opinion, the appellate court ruled in 2009 that Fayette Judge Gerald Solomon appropriately denied VanDivner's efforts to block the death penalty. The court said VanDivner's attorneys were unable to provide sufficient evidence establishing the onset of mental retardation before age 18.

    VanDivner cited a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the execution of a mentally retarded defendant is cruel and unusual punishment.


    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_689457.html

  5. #5
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    Fayette court appeals keep alive terror of slaying

    Jessica Cable fought back tears on Wednesday as she recalled a terrible July afternoon eight years ago when she saw a Point Marion man shoot her mother to death at point-blank range.

    "That's the last memory of my mother," Cable, 23, said at her home in Grindstone. "I wish I hadn't seen that."

    James VanDivner, 63, was found guilty of the July 5, 2004, shooting death of Michelle Cable, 41. Her teen son, Billy, survived a bullet wound in the neck that lodged in his spine.

    Sentenced to death, VanDivner remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute at Greene in Waynesburg, where he has filed a series of unsuccessful appeals.

    VanDivner is one of 202 Pennsylvania inmates on death row, said Susan Bensinger, spokeswoman with the state Department of Corrections.

    Pennsylvania has carried out three executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Those three men waived their appeals.

    The department does not maintain data on the number of years Pennsylvania inmates spend between time of sentencing and execution, Bensinger said.

    Among states with the death penalty, the average is just under 15 years, according to a 2011 report by the Department of Justice found.

    Jessica Cable said VanDivner's appeals have forced her and her family to continuously relive the shooting.

    The latest -- in which VanDivner's attorneys claim they have found witnesses who will testify Jessica was elsewhere when her mother was shot -- has proven more painful than the others because it casts doubt on her credibility, she said.

    "It hurts to know people doubt me," Jessica Cable said. "It also hurts that eight years later, I'm afraid he's going to get away with it. What if it's reduced to second-degree murder and he has a chance of getting out?"

    In a petition filed May 25 for post-conviction relief, VanDivner's attorney, Brent Peck of Uniontown, claims he has found eight witnesses who told a private investigator that Jessica Cable was not at her mother's house when VanDivner fired the fatal shot.

    At trial, Jessica Cable, then just 15 years old, testified she saw VanDivner grab her mother's hair, shoot her at close range and tell her, "There, you (expletive), I said I was going to kill you."

    As Michelle Cable lay dying, VanDivner smiled and walked away, according to Jessica Cable's testimony. Her brother described for jurors how VanDivner closed one eye before shooting Billy.

    When VanDivner was sentenced to die, Jessica Cable, then still a teenager, said she believed justice would be swift. Instead, she now faces the prospect of others in her small community questioning her credibility, she said.

    "What 15-year-old is going to make that up?" said a tearful Jessica Cable as her 6-year-old son napped nearby. "I'm being accused of perjury. Where were these witnesses eight years ago?"

    Her son will never meet his grandmother, Cable said. Her mother was robbed of being with her daughter on her wedding day.

    "My mom didn't have a trial," Jessica Cable said. "My mom didn't have a jury. My mom didn't have a judge. This guy was all of them."

    Jessica Cable said she does not look forward to the prospect of retelling, to a judge and jury, the moment she saw VanDivner fatally shoot her mother.

    But she won't back down, she said, noting her account of the shooting has never changed from the first time she spoke with police until the day she testified at VanDivner's trial.

    "I already had to deal with seeing it, now I have to relive it," Jessica Cable said. "I have to face him again, and that's something I don't want to deal with.

    "But I will. I will defend my mom. I will fight for my mom until the day I die."

    A hearing on VanDivner's appeal is slated for July 5 before President Judge Gerald R. Solomon.

    It is exactly eight years to the day her mother was shot to death, Cable noted.

    http://triblive.com/news/1928395-74/...epartment-didn
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    Witnesses in hearing on 2004 Fayette slaying refute victim’s daughter

    A Fayette County man on death row for the 2004 slaying of his former girlfriend did not shoot her at point-blank range, according to two women who testified during a hearing on an appeal seeking a new trial.

    James VanDivner, 63, was found guilty in 2007 of the July 5, 2004, shooting death of his former girlfriend, Michelle Cable, 41, outside her home in Grindstone, Jefferson Township. VanDivner also shot Cable’s teenage son, Billy, who survived a bullet wound to his spine.

    VanDivner received the death sentence but was back in a courtroom on Wednesday for the hearing before President Judge Gerald R. Solomon.

    His attorneys, Brent Peck and Mariah Balling-Peck of Uniontown, argue in the appeal that VanDivner is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally retarded. In addition, they contend several witnesses who were never called at trial dispute the testimony of the victim’s daughter, Jessica.

    Jessica Cable testified at trial that she saw VanDivner grab her mother’s hair, shoot her at close range and tell her, “There, you (expletive), I said I was going to kill you,’ and smile and walk away,” according to the appeal.

    Two women, Chrissy Newman of Charleroi and Jessica Parrill of Grindstone, testified Wednesday they watched the shooting from a house across the street from the Cables’ residence. They said VanDivner was 10 to 12 feet away when he fired the fatal shot.

    Both women testified Jessica Cable arrived at the house several minutes after the shooting.

    Newman said she gave police the same account of the shooting in 2004. Both women said they were not called to testify at VanDivner’s trial.

    Jessica Cable was at the courthouse for the hearing but was not called to testify. Assistant District Attorney Doug Sepic said she may be called when the hearing resumes next month.

    Dr. Susan Rich, a Maryland psychiatrist, testified VanDivner was born with partial fetal alcohol syndrome and is mentally retarded. The syndrome, caused when a mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy, left VanDivner brain damaged, she testified.

    “He had it from the get-go, day one, and it affected the way he performed on a day-to-day basis,” Rich said.

    Rich said the extent of brain damage indicates VanDivner had heavy exposure to alcohol while still in the womb.

    “(His mother) had to be a binger,” Rich testified. “She had to be somebody who drank four to five drinks at a time.”

    Trillis Cronin of Brownsville, who knew VanDivner’s mother, Mildred, testified the woman drank, but she could not recall if she did so while pregnant with VanDivner.

    Another witness whom the Pecks called, retired Suffolk County, New York, forensic pathologist Charles Wetli, said he found no indication the bullet that killed Michelle Cable was fired at close range. Wetli said he saw no gunshot residue or stippling on autopsy photographs, both of which are indicators of a shot fired at close range.

    Wetli said the bullet likely was fired from a distance of at least 2 feet.

    Solomon did not rule on the motion because the Pecks intend to call a number of other witnesses. The hearing is tentatively scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 16.

    Read more: http://triblive.com/news/2824246-74/...#ixzz2AJbINFEu
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  7. #7
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    Ex-wife: Man convicted of killing girlfriend ‘didn’t comprehend well’


    The ex-wife of a Fayette County man on death row testified Friday that his reading skills were so poor she had to help him study for his commercial driver’s license and file his paperwork on road trips.

    A clinical psychologist testified that James Van-Divner, 64, is, in her opinion, mentally disabled.

    VanDivner was found guilty in 2007 of the July 5, 2004, shooting death of his former girlfriend, Michelle Cable, 41, outside her home in Grindstone, Jefferson Township. VanDivner also shot Cable’s teenage son, Billy, who survived a bullet wound to his spine.

    VanDivner received the death sentence but was back in a courtroom Friday for the resumption of a hearing which began last month before President Judge Gerald R. Solomon.

    His attorneys, Brent Peck and Mariah Balling-Peck of Uniontown, argue in their appeal that VanDivner is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally disabled. In addition, they contend several witnesses who were never called at trial dispute the testimony of the victim’s daughter, Jessica.

    Judith DiJoseph told Peck she was concerned when her then-husband told her around 1992 that he needed to take a test to get his CDL.

    She said she did not think VanDivner would be able to take a written test.

    “He didn’t comprehend well,” DiJoseph said.

    She read to him from the license manual several times a day for months, asking him questions.

    She later helped to arrange for him to take an oral test.

    Mary Christy, who formerly administered CDL tests, said the oral option was available for applicants who could not read well enough to take the written test.

    Dr. Kristine Jacquin, acting dean in the school of psychology at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif., evaluated VanDivner and testified as an expert witness for the defense.

    Jacquin said she spent two days with VanDivner, and interviewed family and friends.

    She said he told her about his childhood, “filled with a lot of unfortunate incidents.”

    Testimony last month included that of a psychiatrist who said VanDivner was born with partial fetal alcohol syndrome and is mentally disabled.

    Jacquin said she learned that he grew up impoverished, and may have suffered physical abuse. She said his family history showed multigenerational “intellectual impairment.”

    She said he attended special education, typical at the time for children with IQs below 75.

    At Peck’s question, she said a person who is diagnosed with a mental disability can marry, have children and sometimes learn a trade.

    Jacquin said she administered “malingering” testing, and his score indicated he was not faking his low intellect.

    Jessica Cable testified at trial that she saw VanDivner grab her mother’s hair, shoot her at close range and tell her, “There, you (expletive), I said I was going to kill you, and smile and walk away,” according to the appeal.

    Several women testified last month that they watched the shooting from across the street from the Cables’ residence. Both said VanDivner was 10 to 12 feet away when he fired the fatal shot.

    On Friday, two more neighbors testified that Jessica Cable arrived on the scene after the shooting.

    Victor Chamberlain Sr. and Kimberly Ropejko said they were not interviewed by police at the time of the incident.

    Chamberlain said he heard what he thought were firecrackers outside his home, next to the Cables, on July 5 but did not go out to investigate until he heard voices.

    He said he stood on his back porch and saw Jessica Cable on his side of a hedge separating the two properties.

    “I heard her say, ‘He shot my mother, he shot my mother,’” Chamberlain said.

    He estimated that was about five minutes after hearing the “pop” sound.

    Ropejko said Michelle Cable and a man visited her on her porch on July 5, and the man, she said, made repeated calls to VanDivner, telling him that he and Cable were now a couple.

    She testified that later in the day, as she drove to her home, she saw Jessica Cable in the bottom of her neighbor’s yard, and that she then ran up an alley.

    “(The shooting) had already happened. ... She (Jessica Cable) was screaming, ‘He killed my mother,’” Ropejko said.

    Peck and assistant district attorney Doug Sepic told Solomon they each would need one more day to complete witness testimony.

    Solomon did not immediately set a date to resume the hearing.


    Read more: http://triblive.com/home/2973114-74/...#ixzz2CTqJ9xem
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    Fayette County witness claims police told her to be untruthful, dictated scenario

    A Fayette County woman testified state troopers pressured her to be untruthful when they spoke with her last summer about a 2004 homicide in which the killer was given the death penalty.

    James VanDivner, 64, was found guilty of the July 5, 2004, shooting death of his former girlfriend, Michelle Cable, 41, outside her home in Grindstone. ]In addition, VanDivner shot Cable's teenage son, Billy, who survived a bullet wound to his spine. VanDivner received the death penalty but was back in court on Wednesday for the resumption of a hearing in which his attorneys, Brent Peck and Mariah Balling Peck of Uniontown, are seeking a new trial. ]The attorneys argue that VanDivner is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally disabled. In addition, they contend several witnesses who were never called at trial dispute the testimony of the victim's daughter, Jessica. ]\One of those witnesses, Cheree Parrill of Grindstone, testified Wednesday she saw VanDivner chase and shoot Cable in front of Cable's house. She testified VanDivner was not close enough to pull Cable's hair just before he shot her, contradicting the trial testimony of Cable's daughter, Jessica.

    During the trial, Jessica Cable testified she saw VanDivner grab her mother's hair, shoot her at close range and tell her, "There, you (expletive), I said I was going to kill you," and smile and walk away, according to the appeal.

    Parrill on Wednesday testified Jessica Cable did not arrive at the shooting scene until after her mother had been shot and was already lying on the ground. Parrill said she told state police a different story when they interviewed her last summer at her home because she was afraid of them.

    "I felt like a prisoner in my house," Parrill testified. "They were more threatening than anything."

    Parrill alleged troopers told her "this is what you have to say" and "this is what happened, this is what you seen." They recorded the interview, she said, but paused it when she gave details that did not fit their scenario of the shooting.

    Asked by Peck to describe which parts of the recorded interview were false, Parrill said: "All of it. The part where they told me I seen James grab ahold of her hair. ... Basically, the whole thing on the recording was not true."

    Parrill testified that in the days after the shooting, Jessica Cable told her "if anybody talked to me" to say that Jessica Cable saw the shooting. "She said, remember, I was there, I seen everything," Parrill testified."If anybody talked to me, just remember, that she was there, she seen everything."

    Parrill said police did not interview her before VanDivner's trial and she was not called to testify at the trial.

    VanDivner's brother, Harry VanDivner Sr. of Brownsville, testified his mother was an alcoholic and his father was abusive. His late father often "whipped" him and his brother with water hoses and extension cords and forced James VanDivner to steal coal to heat the family home.

    The brothers and their siblings were not allowed to play with other children, he testified, and often missed school because they were too tired from chores to awaken in time in the morning to catch the school bus.

    "I think if we'd had a better father, we wouldn't have had the kind of life we had," Harry VanDivner testified.Harry VanDivner testified he and his brother sometimes gathered and sold coal for a quarter a bushel, then took the money to buy candy. They were never certain they were given the correct amount in change, he said, because "we didn't count too good."

    Sister Johnetta Dzuba, the records custodian for Frazier Area School District, testified the only records the district could find regarding VanDivner's schooling show he was in "special classes" but do not indicate whether he underwent any formal IQ testing

    Read more: http://triblive.com/news/fayette/339...#ixzz2JbT2AyWb
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  9. #9
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    Testimony concludes in murder appeal hearing

    Testimony in the post-conviction hearing of a man who was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in Fayette County Court for the 2004 killing of a Grindstone woman concluded Thursday with testimony from an eyewitness to the crime and a police officer who investigated the case.

    James VanDivner, 64, is seeking to have his conviction and sentence overturned, arguing that the July 5, 2004 killing of Michelle Cable was not execution-style, which elevated the crime to the level of capital murder, and that he is mentally retarded and therefore not eligible for the death penalty.

    Last year, defense attorney Brent Peck filed a voluminous post-conviction relief appeal, alleging that VanDivner’s trial and death penalty attorneys were ineffective for not fully exploring conflicting testimony among witnesses, nor the defendant’s mental capacity.

    Assistant District Attorney Doug Sepic called Matthew Thomas at Thursday’s hearing to offer his eyewitness account of what took place on the day VanDivner shot and killed Michelle Cable.

    Thomas told the court he was dating Cherie Parrill at the time, who lived directly across the street from the Cables, and that he was friends with Michelle Cable’s son Billy Cable, who was also shot and injured by VanDivner that day.

    Thomas testified that he was working on Billy Cable’s car in the corner of the Cables’ yard, and that he saw Michelle Cable’s daughter Jessica Cable running toward the house from the alley before the shooting.

    He said Jessica Cable entered the house through the back door, and he heard her yelling at VanDivner, “Jitters, you’re not allowed here.”

    Then Thomas said he heard Parrill screaming as she ran out of the Cable residence, “Jitters has a gun.”

    Thomas testified he heard a couple of gunshots and then saw Michelle Cable “bust through” the screen door.

    “That’s when Jitters came out,” Thomas said. “He never left the door, just pointed and shot.”

    Sepic asked how far VanDivner was from Michelle Cable when he fired the gun, and Thomas said about five feet. Thomas said he then saw Michelle Cable fall to the ground.

    At a previous hearing, Parrill testified that she saw VanDivner as he chased Michelle Cable, and that he was 12 to 15 feet away when he shot her. Parrill testified that she was standing on her porch. Parrill’s claim was in direct contrast to testimony in the 2007 trial from Jessica Cable, who said she watched VanDivner shoot her mother at close range.

    Parrill also claimed she was coerced by police into making a statement that more closely matched Jessica Cable’s account of the execution-style shooting, and that Jessica Cable herself had asked her to lie about what she saw. Parrill said Jessica Cable could not have witnessed the shooting, but Jessica Cable told her to say otherwise.

    Sepic also called state police Trooper Perry Wilson, who conducted interviews with several witnesses in the case in 2012 after Peck filed his appeal, including the interview with Parrill in which she claimed police pressured her to lie about what she saw.

    Wilson said he had also interviewed Chrissy Newman, another neighbor who witnessed the shooting, who previously testified she was confused and afraid when she talked to police, and did not mean to make it sound as though VanDivner grabbed Michelle Cable by the hair and shot her while holding her hair.

    Newman had offered a different story in court from what she told police investigators, saying that she did see VanDivner grab Michelle Cable by her hair, but said that Michelle Cable got away from him and started to run away when VanDivner shot from between 10 and 12 feet away.

    Wilson testified that neither he nor the other investigating officer had threatened Parrill nor Newman in order to force them to give a particular account.

    He said neither of the women were promised any favors in exchange for testimony.

    After closing testimony, Senior Judge Gerald R. Solomon said he would rule on the matter at a later date.

    http://www.heraldstandard.com/news/c...226e9471d.html
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    New trial rejected for Pa. death row inmate

    A judge has rejected a new trial for a death row inmate convicted in the shooting death of his ex-girlfriend a decade ago.

    Attorneys for 64-year-old James VanDivner Jr. of Brownsville argued in Fayette County Court that police failed to interview witnesses who might have helped his case.

    Senior Judge Gerald Solomon also rejected a defense contention that VanDivner is mentally disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty.

    Prosecutors said VanDivner killed 41-year-old Michelle Cable outside her Jefferson Township home in July 2004 and also wounded her teenage son.

    Assistant District Attorney Doug Sepic said VanDivner received a fair trial. He called the defendant "a cold-blooded murderer" and said justice won't be fully served until the defendant "takes his last breath ... in the death chamber at SCI Rockview."

    http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/ne...te-5161420.php
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