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Convict seeks retrial for 2004 fatal shooting of Grindstone woman

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

Granting a new trial to the man sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of a Grindstone woman's mother in 2004 will not change the fact he killed her, the victim's daughter said following a hearing on Thursday in Fayette County.

“Regardless of the outcome, it will never change what he did,” said Jessica Cable at the conclusion of the hearing before Senior Judge Gerald R. Solomon for James “Jitters” VanDivner.

“He's a murderer,” Jessica Cable said. “It will just change him, in that he will have to live with what he did, rather than someone else taking his life.”

VanDivner, 64, was found guilty of the July 5, 2004, shooting death of his former girlfriend, Michelle Cable, 41, outside her home in Grindstone, Redstone Township. VanDivner shot Cable's teenage son, Billy, who survived a bullet wound to his spine.

Through his attorneys, Brent Peck and Mariah Balling Peck of Uniontown, Van-Divner is seeking a new trial. The attorneys argue police failed to interview a number of witnesses whose testimony might have helped VanDivner, and they contend he is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally challenged.

The hearing was the last in a series that began in October. Solomon did not immediately rule on the motion, but he denied Peck's request to submit supplemental briefs in support of his case.

“I've had enough briefs,” Solomon said, indicating he will make his decision based on testimony and other information on the record.

Among those who testified on Thursday was Matthew Thomas, 27, of Hibbs. Thomas testified he was working on Billy Cable's car outside the Cables' house when a man who he later learned was VanDivner quietly walked up behind him.

“He scared the crap out of me,” Thomas testified. “I didn't know who it was.”

He testified the man disappeared, and a few minutes later, he saw Jessica Cable running toward the house, shouting that “Jitters” was not allowed to be there. He said his girlfriend came out of the Cables' house and told him that “Jitters” had a gun.

Thomas testified he heard several shots, then saw Michelle Cable “bust through” the front screen door. Van-Divner shot the woman at close range, he testified. “He pointed and shot,” Thomas testified. “She hit the ground.”

On cross-examination by Peck, Thomas acknowledged the car was at the rear of the house. Peck pointed out that if Thomas was still at the car when Michelle Cable was shot in front of the house, he could not have witnessed the shooting.

Another witness who testified, Pittsburgh-based Trooper Pierre Wilson, denied earlier allegations that he and other troopers pressured witnesses to make untruthful statements.

Wilson testified he interviewed several witnesses over the summer regarding recent statements they had given to the defense that contradicted Jessica Cable's trial testimony.

At 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.

One of the witnesses whom Wilson interviewed, Cheree Parrill of Grindstone, testified during an earlier hearing that VanDivner was not close enough to grab Michelle Cable's hair when he shot her.

After the hearing, Jessica Cable pointed out that while other witnesses' statements have changed, hers has remained the same.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media.

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