A re-sentencing hearing for Jessica Holtmeyer, 36, formerly of Clearfield and incarcerated at SCI-Muncy, was held before Senior Judge Daniel Howsare of Bedford County yesterday at the Clearfield County Courthouse.
Holtmeyer was convicted of murdering Kimberly Dotts, 15, in May of 1998. In a case that drew national attention, Holtmeyer, who was 16, and her 18-year-old boyfriend Aaron Straw were with a group of friends in a remote area of Bradford Township when Straw and Holtmeyer hung Dotts by the neck with a rope before Holtmeyer bludgeoned her to death with a rock.
The group of friends were planning to run away to Florida and Holtmeyer feared Dotts would tell on them, according to previous articles in The Progress.
Holmeyer and Straw were both sentenced to life in prison without parole but in 2012 in the case In Miller vs. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot impose mandatory life in prison without parole sentence on juvenile offenders.
The state Supreme Court, using the Miller vs. Alabama as a guidepost, ruled there is a presumption against the imposition of a life sentence without parole for a defendant convicted of first degree murder as a juvenile.
To overcome this presumption, the court said the commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that “the juvenile offender is permanently incorrigible and thus is unable to be rehabilitated.” And even if the commonwealth meets this burden, the sentencing court is not required to impose a life sentence.
Troy Edwards, re-entry services coordinator at SCI-Muncy, testified that when Holtmeyer was first incarcerated she committed a few infractions, but since that time has worked to better herself and the jail community and has been an exceptional inmate.
He said Holtmeyer completed numerous educational programs while in jail and completed her training to be a paralegal as well as taking several college courses while in jail.
Holtmeyer is also a dual certified peer support specialist and assists other inmates who are the victims of domestic violence and other psychological trauma.
Additionally, Holtmeyer works in the prison greenhouse and tutors other inmates, both of which require a large amount of trust by prison staff.
“The staff really relies on her,” Edwards said.
Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. disagreed during cross-examination.
“So you are saying it is an honor to come here and speak on behalf of a convicted murderer,” Shaw asked.
Edwards said “no,” and said he was honored to speak on behalf of the progress Holtmeyer has made.
Shaw then asked if it would be a violation of prison policy for Holtmeyer to engage in internet dating. Edwards said it would be a violation but doesn’t think it is possible for Holtmeyer to do so.
Shaw then showed him copies of a dating profile that was posted on the internet and Edwards said he didn’t know anything about it.
The media didn’t get to see the paperwork Shaw showed Edwards but there is a dating profile on “Paper Dolls” for Holtmeyer with two pictures of Holtmeyer stating her mailing address is a P.O. Box at SCI-Muncy.
Next to testify was Deban Cole, a social worker at SCI-Muncy. She said Holtmeyer assists her in getting inmates to fill out the proper paperwork to get identification when they are released from jail. She said she works with Holtmeyer on a daily basis for about six hours a day.
“She does a lot for me,” Cole said.
She said Holtmeyer has a positive work ethic and believes she will be successful in transitioning out of jail.
During cross examination, Shaw asked if she could guarantee that Holtmeyer would not reoffend.
“If she is bullied and someone calls her fat, will she bash her head in with a rock?” Shaw angrily asked.
Cole said she couldn’t guarantee that anyone would not re-offend.
Counseling Psychologist Dr. Deborah Mucha of Scottsdale testified that she interviewed Holtmeyer as well as several members of her family, including Holtmeyer’s mother, half-sister, grandparents and staff at SCI-Muncy.
Mucha said Holtmeyer’s troubles started since birth and said she had a difficult childhood. She said Holtmeyer was born when her mother was 17 and was raised by her grandparents and had little contact with her mother despite her living nearby. And she said Holtmeyer was sexually assaulted when she was age 5 by a neighborhood boy and didn’t tell anyone about it.
She said Holtmeyer’s rejection by her mother and her mother’s new family made Holtmeyer feel inadequate and unworthy, and took to bullying her younger half-sister out of jealousy.
Mucha said Holtmeyer went to a Catholic school up until 8th grade. Despite being highly intelligent, Holtmeyer did poorly at school and had difficulty socializing with other children during her elementary school years. Mucha said Holtmeyer was bullied by other children because she was overweight and was different.
She said Holtmeyer suffered from depression and was suicidal and and sought love and acceptance, which caused her to seek bad relationships with men. Mucha said Holtmeyer had a sexual relationship with a 29-year-old man when she was 13.
In high school, she became involved with Straw who abused her sexually, psychologically and emotionally.
Mucha said Holtmeyer participated in intensive trauma counseling program and has come a long way since her incarceration and has been rehabilitated. And she said a psychological profile done on Holtmeyer when she was first incarcerated and one completed on her recently shows this progress.
It also shows that Holtmeyer is highly intelligent and has an IQ of 141.
She also said it is her opinion that there is a low risk that Holtmeyer would re-offend.
During cross-examination Shaw asked since Holtmeyer is so intelligent, is she able to outsmart her and manipulate her into thinking she has been rehabilitated — and Mucha said this isn’t true.
Shaw asked if Holtmeyer is remorseful for what she did and Mucha said Holtmeyer is remorseful and has worked to help others to to try to make up for what she did.
Shaw asked if Holtmeyer ever spoke of the murder and what happened, and Mucha said Holtmeyer says she doesn’t remember the incident.
“How can she be remorseful for something she doesn’t remember?” Shaw asked.
Mucha said Holtmeyer doesn’t deny that it happened.
Shaw asked how Holtmeyer could forget something like that, and Mucha said perhaps remembering the incident is too stressful for her.
Holtmeyer gave a brief statement at the end of the hearing.
“I’m sorry for what I did, but I can’t make it better, all I can only do from here is move forward,” Holtmeyer said.
Howsare said he has asked both sides to file briefs by Sept. 17 and said he would make his decision afterward.