Murder of Shanda Sharer

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Shanda Sharer
ShandaSharer2.jpg
Shanda Sharer
Born(1979-06-06)June 6, 1979
Pineville, Kentucky, USA
DiedJanuary 11, 1992(1992-01-11) (aged 12)
Madison, Indiana, USA
ParentsSteve Sharer and Jacque Vaught
 
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Shanda Sharer
ShandaSharer2.jpg
Shanda Sharer
Born(1979-06-06)June 6, 1979
Pineville, Kentucky, USA
DiedJanuary 11, 1992(1992-01-11) (aged 12)
Madison, Indiana, USA
ParentsSteve Sharer and Jacque Vaught

Shanda Renee Sharer (June 6, 1979 – January 11, 1992) was an American girl who was tortured and burned to death in Madison, Indiana, by four teenage girls. She was 12 years old at the time of her death. The incident attracted nationwide attention due to both the brutality and the young age of the perpetrators. The case was covered on national programs such as Dr. Phil and has inspired a number of episodes on fictional crime shows.[1]

Shanda Sharer[edit]

Shanda Renee Sharer was born at Pineville Community Hospital in Pineville, Kentucky, on June 6, 1979, to Steve Sharer and Jacqueline Vaught.[2] Sharer attended fifth and sixth grades in Louisville at St. Paul School, where she was on the cheerleading, volleyball, and softball teams.[3]

After Sharer's parents divorced, her mother remarried and the family moved to Louisville. When her mother divorced again, the family moved to New Albany, Indiana, in June 1991, and Sharer enrolled at Hazelwood Middle School.[4] Early in the school year, she transferred to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, a Catholic school in New Albany, where she joined the female basketball team.[3]

Events prior to murder[edit]

In 1990, 14-year-old Melinda Loveless began dating another young girl named Amanda Heavrin. After Loveless' father left the family and her mother remarried, Loveless behaved erratically. She got into fights at school, and she felt depressed. She received professional counseling. In March 1991, Loveless disclosed her lesbian orientation to her mother, who was initially furious but eventually accepted it. As the year progressed, though, Loveless' relationship with Heavrin deteriorated.[5]

Heavrin and Shanda Sharer had met early during the Fall semester when they got into a fight; however, they became friends while in detention for the altercation. Loveless immediately grew jealous of Heavrin and Sharer's relationship. In early October, Heavrin and Sharer attended a school dance, where Loveless found and confronted them. Although Heavrin and Loveless had never formally ended their relationship, Loveless started to date an older girl.[6]

After Heavrin and Sharer attended a festival together in late October, Loveless began to discuss killing Sharer and threatened Sharer in public. Concerned about the effects of their daughter's relationship with Heavrin, Sharer's parents arranged for her to transfer to a Catholic school in late November, and the girls started drifting apart by December.[7]

Events of January 10–11, 1992[edit]

Pre-abduction[edit]

On January 10, 1992, Toni Lawrence (age 15), Hope Rippey (age 15), and Laurie Tackett (age 17) drove in Tackett's car from Madison, Indiana, to Melinda Loveless' house in New Albany. Lawrence, while friends of Tackett, had not previously met Loveless (age 16), though Rippey had met her once before and had gotten along with her; however, upon arrival, they borrowed some clothes from Loveless, and she showed them a knife, telling them she was going to scare Shanda Sharer with it. Only Loveless had ever met Sharer, although Tackett already knew of the plan to intimidate the 12-year-old girl. Loveless explained to the two other girls that she disliked Sharer for being a copycat and for stealing her girlfriend.[8]

Tackett let Rippey drive the four girls to Jeffersonville, Indiana, where Sharer lived, stopping at a McDonald's restaurant en route to ask for directions. They arrived at Sharer's house shortly before dark. Loveless instructed Rippey and Lawrence to go to the door and introduce themselves as friends of Heavrin (Loveless' former and Sharer's current girlfriend). They should invite Sharer to come with them to see Heavrin, who was waiting for them at "The Witch's Castle", a ruined stone house, also known as Mistletoe Falls, located on an isolated hill overlooking the Ohio River.

Sharer said that she could not go because her parents were awake, and she told the girls to come back around midnight.[9] Loveless was angry at first, but Rippey and Lawrence assured her about returning for Sharer later. The four girls crossed the river to Louisville, Kentucky, and attended a punk rock concert at the Audubon Skate Park near Interstate 65. Lawrence and Rippey quickly lost interest in the music and went to the parking lot outside the skate park, where they engaged in sexual activities with two boys in Tackett's car.[10]

Eventually, the four girls left for Sharer's house. During the ride, Loveless said that she could not wait to kill Sharer; however, Loveless also said that she found Sharer attractive and would like to have sex with her and that she just intended to use the knife to frighten her. When they arrived at Sharer's house at 12:30 a.m., Lawrence refused to retrieve Sharer, so Tackett and Rippey went to the door. Loveless hid under a blanket in the back seat of the car with a dull knife.[11]

Abduction[edit]

Sharer was waiting for the girls. Rippey told her that Heavrin was still at the Witch's Castle. Sharer was reluctant to go with them yet agreed after changing her clothes. As they got in the car, Rippey began questioning Sharer about her relationship with Heavrin just to trigger off Loveless. Loveless, having heard enough, spang out from the back seat and put the knife to Sharer's throat and began interrogating her about her sexual relationship with Heavrin. They drove towards Utica, Indiana, and the occasional hangout for local teenagers, Witch's Castle. Tackett told the girls that legend said the house was once owned by nine witches and townspeople burned the house to get rid of the witches.[12]

At Witch's Castle, they took a sobbing Sharer in and bound her arms and legs with rope. There, Loveless taunted that she has pretty hair and wondered how pretty she would look if they were to cut it off, which frightened Sharer even more. Loveless began taking off Sharer's rings and handed each to the girls. At some point, Rippey had taken Sharer's Mickey Mouse watch and danced to the Disney tune it played. Tackett, sick of the childish games, started describing the dungeon to Sharer that it was filled with human remains and bones and hers would be next. Subsequently, Tackett went back to the car where Lawrence followed her to retrieve her cherished smiley face sweater. She returned and lit it on fire but immediately feared that the fire would be spotted by bypassing cars, so they left. During the car ride, Sharer continued begging them to take her back home. Tackett turned on a boom box sitting on her lap that played opera and mimicked Sharer, acting like she was crying, and laughed what she called her Devil Laugh. Loveless ordered Sharer to slip off her bra, which she then handed over to Rippey, who slid off her own bra and replaced it with Sharer's--all while steering the car. They got lost so stopped for some directions at a gas station, where they covered Sharer in a blanket. While Tackett went inside to ask for directions, Lawrence called a boy she knew in Louisville and chatted for several minutes to ease her worries, failing to mention Sharer's abduction. They returned to the car but got lost again and pulled up to another gas station. There, Lawrence and Rippey had spotted a couple of boys and talked to them before once again getting back into the car and leaving. They arrived at the edge of some woods near Tackett's home in Madison, Indiana.[13]

Torture[edit]

Tackett led them to a garbage dump off a logging road in a densely forested area. Lawrence and Rippey were frightened and stayed in the car. Loveless and Tackett made Sharer strip naked; then, Loveless beat Sharer with her fists. Next, Loveless repeatedly slammed Sharer's face into her knee, which cut Sharer's mouth on her own braces. Loveless tried to slash Sharer's throat, but the knife was too dull. Rippey came out of the car to hold down Sharer. Loveless and Tackett took turns stabbing Sharer in the chest. They then strangled Sharer with a rope until she was unconscious, placed her in the trunk of the car, and told the other two girls that Sharer was dead.[14]

The girls drove to Tackett's nearby home and went inside to drink soda and clean themselves. When they realized Sharer was screaming in the trunk, Tackett went out with a paring knife and stabbed her several more times, coming back a few minutes later covered with blood. After she washed, Tackett told the girls' futures with her "runestones". At 2:30 a.m., Lawrence and Rippey stayed behind as Tackett and Loveless went "country cruising", driving to the nearby town of Canaan. Sharer continued to make crying and gurgling noises, so Tackett stopped the car. When they opened the trunk, Sharer sat up, covered in blood with her eyes rolled back in her head, but unable to speak. Tackett beat her with a tire iron until she was silent.[15][16]

Loveless and Tackett returned to Tackett's house just before daybreak to clean up again. Rippey asked about Sharer, and Tackett laughingly described the torture. The conversation woke up Tackett's mother, who yelled at her daughter for being out late and bringing home the girls, so Tackett agreed to take them home. She drove to the burn pile, where they opened the trunk to stare at Sharer. Lawrence refused. Rippey sprayed Sharer with Windex and taunted, "You're not looking so hot now, are you? Now let's take her pants off and get to it ladies!"[17]

Burned alive[edit]

Memorial to Sharer at the location where she died.

The girls drove to a gas station near Madison Consolidated High School, pumped some gasoline into the car, and bought a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. Tackett poured out the Pepsi and refilled the bottle with gasoline. They drove north of Madison, past Jefferson Proving Ground to Lemon Road off U.S. Route 421, a place known to Rippey. Lawrence remained in the car while Tackett and Rippey wrapped Sharer, who was still alive, in a blanket, and carried her to a field by the gravel country road. Tackett made Rippey pour the gasoline on Sharer, and then they set her on fire. Loveless was not convinced Sharer was dead, so they returned a few minutes later to pour the rest of the gasoline on her.[18][19]

The girls went to a McDonald's at 9:30 a.m. for breakfast, where they laughed about Sharer's looking like one of the sausages they were eating. Lawrence, horrified, phoned a friend and told her about the murder. Tackett then dropped off Lawrence and Rippey at their homes and finally returned to her own home with Loveless. They cleaned out the car, using a hose to wash the trunk. Around 3:00 p.m., they drove to Loveless' house. Loveless discovered that Heavrin was at River Falls Mall and had her paged, claiming an emergency; she told Heavrin that they had killed Sharer and arranged to pick up Heavrin later that day.[20]

A friend of Loveless', Crystal Wathen, came over to Loveless' house, and they told her what had happened. Then, the three girls drove to pick up Heavrin and bring her back to Loveless' house, where they told Heavrin the story; although she did not believe it was true, Heavrin comforted the hysterical Loveless. Both Heavrin and Wathen became convinced when Tackett showed them the trunk of the car with Sharer's bloody handprints and socks still there. Heavrin was horrified and asked to be taken home. When they pulled up in front of her house, Loveless kissed Heavrin and told her she loved her and pleaded her not to tell anyone. Heavrin promised she wouldn't before entering her house.[21]

Investigation[edit]

Later on the morning of January 11, 1992, two brothers from Canaan, Indiana, were driving toward Jefferson Proving Ground to go hunting when they noticed a body on the side of the road. They called the police at 10:55 a.m. and were asked to return to the corpse. David Camm, who was later acquitted of his own family's murders, was the responding officer.[22] Jefferson County Sheriff Buck Shippley and detectives began an investigation, collecting forensic evidence at the scene. They initially suspected a drug deal gone wrong and could not believe the crime had been committed by locals.[23]

Steve Sharer noticed his daughter missing early on January 11. After phoning neighbors and friends all morning, he called his ex-wife, Shanda's mother, at 1:45 p.m.; they met and filed a missing person report with the Clark County sheriff.[24][25]

At 8:20 p.m., a hysterical Toni Lawrence went to the Jefferson County Sheriff's office with her parents. She gave a rambling statement, identifying the victim as "Shanda", naming the three other girls involved as best she could, and describing the main events of the previous night. Shippley contacted the Clark County sheriff and was finally able to match the body to Shanda Sharer's missing person report.[26]

Detectives obtained dental records that positively identified Shanda Sharer as the victim.[27] Loveless and Tackett were arrested on January 12. The bulk of the evidence for the arrest warrant was Lawrence's statement. The prosecution immediately declared its intention to try both suspects as adults. For several months, the prosecutors and defense attorneys did not release any information about the case, giving the news media only the statement by Lawrence.[25]

Judicial process[edit]

Jefferson County Courthouse in Madison, Indiana
Timeline
January 11, 1992Body of Shanda Sharer found in rural Jefferson County, Indiana
April 22, 1992Lawrence accepts plea bargain
September 21, 1992Loveless and Tackett accept plea bargains
January 4, 1993Loveless sentenced to 60 years
December 14, 2000Lawrence released on parole
November 3, 2004A judge reduces Rippey's sentence to 35 years
April 28, 2006Rippey released on parole

All four girls were charged as adults. To avoid the death penalty, the girls accepted plea bargains.

Mitigating factors[edit]

All four girls had troubled backgrounds with claims of physical or sexual abuse committed by a parent or other adult. Hope Rippey, Toni Lawrence, and Laurie Tackett had histories of self-harming behavior.[28][29][30] Tackett was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and suffers from hallucinations.[31]

Melinda Loveless, often described as the ringleader in the attack,[32] had the most extensive history of abuse and mental health issues.

Sentences[edit]

Tackett and Loveless were sentenced to 60 years in the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis. With maximum time reduced for good behavior, they could be released in 2020.

Rippey was sentenced to 60 years, with ten years suspended for mitigating circumstances, plus ten years of medium-supervision probation.

Appeals[edit]

In October 2007, Loveless' attorney, Mark Small, requested a hearing to argue for his client's release. He said that Loveless had been "profoundly retarded" by childhood abuse. Moreover, she had not been represented competently by counsel during her sentencing, which caused her to accept a plea bargain in the face of exaggerated claims about her chances of receiving the death penalty. Small also argued that Loveless, who was 16 years old when she signed the plea agreement, was too young to enter into a contract in the state of Indiana without consent from a parent or guardian, which had not been obtained. If the judge accepted these arguments, Loveless could have been retried or released outright.[33]

On January 8, 2008, Loveless' request was rejected by Jefferson Circuit Judge Ted Todd. Instead, Loveless will be eligible for parole in 15 years, thus maintaining the original guilty plea.[34]

On November 14, 2008, Loveless' appeal was denied by the Indiana Court of Appeals, upholding Judge Todd's ruling. Small stated that he would seek to have jurisdiction over the case moved to the Supreme Court of Indiana.[35]

Incarceration[edit]

Both Loveless and Tackett are currently serving their original sentences. Given Indiana's policy of reducing sentences by a day for every day served with good behavior, both women could possibly walk out of prison in 2022, when Loveless is 46 and Tackett is 47 years old.[36]

Releases[edit]

Toni Lawrence was released on December 14, 2000, after serving 9 years. She remained on parole until December 2002.[37]
On April 28, 2006, Hope Rippey was released from Indiana Women's Prison on parole after serving 14 years of her original sentence. She will remain on supervised parole for 5 years.[36]

Aftermath[edit]

A few weeks following his release, Loveless unsuccessfully sued the Floyd County Jail for $39 million in federal court, alleging he had suffered cruel and unusual punishment during his two-year incarceration. Among his complaints--he was not allowed to sleep in his bed during the day and he was not allowed to read the newspaper.[39]

In popular culture[edit]

In literature and stageplays[edit]

The crime was documented in two true crime books, Little Lost Angel by Michael Quinlan[42] and Cruel Sacrifice by Aphrodite Jones;[43] Jones's book on the case became a New York Times Bestseller.

The story was turned into a play by Rob Urbinati called Hazelwood Jr. High, which starred Chloë Sevigny as Tackett.[44] The play was published by Samuel French, Inc. in September 2009.[45]

In television[edit]

"Mean", an episode from the fifth season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, is based on the murder.[46][47]

The Cold Case second season episode "The Sleepover" is loosely based on this crime.[48]

In an interview with Shanda Sharer's mother, Jacque Vaught, on the TV series Deadly Women, Vaught stated that Sharer's father was so destroyed by his daughter's murder that he "did everything he could to kill himself besides put a gun to his head" and that he "drank himself to death. The man definitely died from a broken heart".[49]

In 2011, Dr. Phil aired a two-part series on the crime, which featured Shanda Sharer's mother and sister, who both confronted Hope Rippey on the show, and an interview with Amanda Heavrin.[50]

References[edit]

  1. ^ MacDonald, Janelle (20 May 2011). "Shana Sharer's mother to appear on Dr. Phil". Wave 3 News. Retrieved May 2014. 
  2. ^ Jones, Aphrodite (1994). Cruel Sacrifice. Pinnacle. p. 46. ISBN 9780786010639. 
  3. ^ a b Runquist, Pam (14 January 1992). "The Pain of Remembering". The Courier-Journal. p. 8A. 
  4. ^ Jones, pp. 125-126
  5. ^ Jones, pp. 123-124
  6. ^ Jones, pp. 138-141
  7. ^ Jones, pp. 142-152
  8. ^ Jones, pp. 9-11
  9. ^ Jones, pp. 11-12
  10. ^ Jones, p. 13
  11. ^ Jones, pp. 18-19
  12. ^ Jones, pp. 19-21
  13. ^ Jones, pp. 21-24
  14. ^ Jones, pp. 24-26
  15. ^ Jones, pp. 26-29
  16. ^ Lohr, David. "Death of Innocence - The Murder of Young Shanda Sharer". <crimelibrary>: Criminal Minds and Methods. Chapter 9 Dead?. Retrieved May 2014. 
  17. ^ Jones, pp. 30-31
  18. ^ Jones, pp. 31-34
  19. ^ Lewis, Bob (31 January 1993). "Thinking the Unthinkable: What Led 4 Teens to Torture, Murder Child?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 2014. 
  20. ^ Jones, pp. 35-36
  21. ^ Jones, pp. 36-37
  22. ^ Glatt, John (May 2005). One Deadly Night. St. Martin's Paperbacks. ISBN 9780312993092. 
  23. ^ Jones, pp. 40-43
  24. ^ Jones, pp. 38-39
  25. ^ a b Yetter, Deborah (13 January 1992). "Teen Girls Charged in Torture Slaying of New Albany Girl". The Courier-Journal. p. 1A. 
  26. ^ Jones, pp. 44-46
  27. ^ Jones, p. 50
  28. ^ Jones, pp. 172-174
  29. ^ Jones, p. 178
  30. ^ Jones, pp. 174-178
  31. ^ Jones, pp. 179-188
  32. ^ MacDonald, Janelle (8 January 2008). "Judge denies Loveless' request for early release in torture-killing". Wave 3 News. Retrieved May 2014. 
  33. ^ Mojica, Stephanie (14 October 2007). "Loveless seeks release from jail". The Tribune (New Albany). Retrieved May 2014. 
  34. ^ "Woman's torture-murder sentence stands". Associated Press. 8 January 2008. [dead link][dead link]
  35. ^ "Appeal denied in 1992 torture death". WLFI-TV. [dead link][dead link]
  36. ^ a b Lohr, David. "Death of Innocence - The Murder of Young Shanda Sharer". <crimelibrary>: Criminal Minds and Methods. Chapter 22 "She is just Evil". Retrieved May 2014. 
  37. ^ Lohr, David. "Death of Innocence - The Murder of Young Shanda Sharer". <crimelibrary>: Criminal Minds and Methods. Chapter 17 Aftermath. Retrieved May 2014. 
  38. ^ Pillow, John C. (3 February 1995). "Fate Of Loveless Sex-Abuse Case Unclear Two Years After Arrest". The Courier-Journal. p. B1. 
  39. ^ a b Pillow, John C. (21 June 1995). "Inmates' Suit Nears Hearing". The Courier-Journal. p. B1. 
  40. ^ Dunn, Trisha (11 January 2009). "New Albany memorial focuses on Shanda, not her murder". News and Tribune. Retrieved May 2014. 
  41. ^ Ryder, Anne (21 May 2012). "Shanda Sharer's mother and murderer form unlikely alliance". Wave 3 News. Retrieved May 2014. 
  42. ^ Quinlan, Michael (2012). Little Lost Angel. Gallery Books. ISBN 978-1451698794. 
  43. ^ Jones, Aphrodite (1999). Cruel Sacrifice. Pinnacle. ISBN 9780786010639. 
  44. ^ Evans, Greg (6 May 1998). "Review: 'Hazelwood Jr. High'". Variety. Retrieved May 2014. 
  45. ^ Urbinati, Rob (2009). Hazelwood Jr. High. Samuel French, Inc. ASIN B008MR6DHW. 
  46. ^ Dwyer, Kevin; Fiorillo, Jure (2007). True Stories of Law & Order. Berkley Trade. pp. 32–36. ISBN 9780425217351. 
  47. ^ Fazekas, Michele; Butters, Tara (24 February 2004). "Mean". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 5. Episode 17. CBS.
  48. ^ Garcia, Liz W. (7 November 2004). "The Sleepover". Cold Case. Season 2. Episode 6. CBS.
  49. ^ Paul, Hawker (24 December 2008). "Thrill Killers". Deadly Women. Season 2. Episode 1. Discovery Channel.
  50. ^ "In Cold Blood: A Daughter's Brutal Murder". Dr. Phil. 

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