Court affirms prison term
Holtmeyer sought resentencing for role in Dotts murder
The 2018 sentence of a former Clearfield County woman to a prison term of 35 years to life for a murder she committed as a minor was affirmed Monday by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
The state appeals court rejected a request by Jessica Nicole Holtmeyer, now 38, to grant her a resentencing hearing, because, she claimed, the sentence was essentially life without parole, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on 2012 was, for a minor, a violation of the Eighth Amendment barring “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Superior Court Judge Megan King wrote in a 23-page opinion that the sentence imposed by Senior Judge Daniel L. Howsare does not constitute a de facto life without parole sentence.
“The court resentenced (Holtmeyer) to 35 years to life imprisonment for first-degree murder. (She) has been incarcerated since she was 16 years old and will be eligible for parole when she is 51 years old,” the opinion stated.
Judges Deborah A. Kunselman and James G. Colins, joined the opinion.
Holtmeyer has been incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy after initially being sentenced in 1999 to life without parole for the murder of Kimberly Dotts, 15, who along with Holtmeyer, was a member of a group of teens calling themselves “The Runaways.”
The name came about because the six teens, ages 14 to 18, had decided in May 1999 to leave Clearfield County and travel to Florida.
Both Holtmeyer and Dotts were part of the group that decided to hold a “bizarre” initiation rite in which they forged a noose using rope stolen from a cabin and, after throwing it over a tree limb, each teen took a turn at placing the noose around his or her neck.
Things turned ugly when Dotts placed the noose around her neck.
Holtmeyer, who alleged Dotts was a “snitch,” and her boyfriend, Aaron Straw, 18, would not let Dotts remove the noose.
Instead they pulled it until Dotts was on her tiptoes and in tears.
They momentarily relented allowing Dotts to remove the rope due to the sound of an approaching vehicle.
After the vehicle passed, the victim again placed her head in the noose and it was once again pulled tight until she passed out and stopped breathing.
Her body dropped to the ground, at which point the victim began to revive.
Holtmeyer then used a rock to kill Dotts, striking her twice in the face.
On March 24, 1999, Holtmeyer was sentenced to life without parole, a mandatory sentence in Pennsylvania for first-degree murder.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, and a subsequent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, did not rule out a life without parole sentence for first-degree murder, but it limited the sentence to individuals who are considered “permanently incorrigible, irreparably corrupt or irretrievably depraved.”
According to the Superior Court, the law now states, “there is a presumption against sentencing a juvenile to life without parole, which the Commonwealth can rebut if it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile is incapable of rehabilitation.”
Holtmeyer requested a resentencing hearing, which was granted.
The Commonwealth agreed with the defense that Holtmeyer was capable of being rehabilitated, and testimony taken during the resentencing process indicated she has taken steps toward rehabilitation during her years behind bars.
A reentry service coordinator from Muncy pointed out that Holtmeyer worked as a reentry support specialist who helped other inmates to prepare for life after prison.
She furthered her education and was employed in the prison. She was involved in a program titled House of Hope.
Other experts testified Holtmeyer was well prepared for reentry, including a psychologist who explained that at the time of the murder, Holtmeyer suffered from a condition called “automatic obedience” due to “extreme traumatization” at the hands of her boyfriend.
The psychologist contended that Holtmeyer “has been rehabilitated.”
The defense argued that Howsare had placed too much weight on the seriousness of the incident, and a 20-year-old victim statement from the Dotts’ family, and not enough attention to Holtmeyer’s rehabilitation efforts.
Judge Howsare replied that he did consider the seriousness of the crime, pointing out, “One could only imagine the horror this 15-year-old girl experienced before she died.”
The Superior Court concluded, “nothing in the record indicates the resentencing court placed undue weight on the gravity of the offenses.”
Holtmeyer’s former boyfriend, Straw, is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas.
Holtmeyer’s attorney, Patrick Lavelle of DuBois, could not be reached for comment.