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. Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.