Friday, October 31, 2008

The Murder of Shanda Sharer


On the morning of Saturday, January 11, 1992, Canaan, Ind., resident Donn Foley and his brother Ralph were quail hunting in nearby Jefferson County when they spotted a strange object in a fallow soybean field near Lemon Road.
Ralph's first thought was that the object was a body, though logic dictated that it were something else. Even so, the two men went for a closer look. At first glance it appeared to be a rubber blow-up doll someone had discarded and burned, but upon closer inspection the reality became horribly apparent. The object was not a doll, but the charred remains of a human body.
Apart from a pair of panties, the body was naked and extensively burnt from the waist up. The legs of the victim were spread as if they had been posed, and the arms were stretched skyward with clenched fists. The victim appeared to have been a young woman, but the chest had been burned so badly that it was difficult to tell. Most horrifying of all was the victim's face — the eyes were empty, without color; and the mouth was wide open, exposing teeth tightly clenched on the victim's tongue. The scene was brutal, one that neither man would soon forget.
At 10:55 a.m., Chief Deputy Randy Spry from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in Madison received Foley's call and set out for Lemon Road. Since there had not been a murder in Jefferson County in over three years, the deputy was somewhat skeptical of the Foley brothers' report. However, after he arrived at the scene, Spry's doubts were erased, and he immediately radioed headquarters to request Sheriff Richard "Buck" Shipley's presence at the scene.


It took more than an hour for Shipley to reach the crime scene from his home in Madison. At first glance he was appalled. He had seen many dead bodies during his time on the force, but never one in such a grisly state. It was immediately obvious that the Sheriff's Office did not have the resources to handle the investigation properly, so Shipley radioed the Indiana State Police for assistance.


Indiana State Police Detective Steve Henry and forensic expert Sergeant Curtis Wells arrived at the crime scene just after 1:00 p.m. Wells recorded the crime scene with a video camera and took several still photographs. After taking castings of various unknown tire tracks and footprints, he began a cursory examination of the body.
With Sgt. Wells' extensive knowledge of forensics, it was apparent to him that a flammable substance had been used to destroy physical evidence. Examining the genital area of the victim, he noted that the victim's panties had been pulled to one side and that the condition of the body indicated some type of anal molestation, either prior to or immediately after death. As Wells was examining the body, Detective Henry discovered a melted plastic bottle containing trace amounts of gasoline lying in the weeds nearby. When the coroner arrived on the scene, Wells collected hair samples from the victim and removed a ring from one of the victim's fingers. Examining the ring free from the victim's hand, Wells discovered it was a Jeffersonville High School class ring with the initials SGH engraved inside.


According to the book Cruel Sacrifice, by Aphrodite Jones, the initial feeling among the investigators was that the killing was the result of a bungled drug deal, but they could not understand why the body had been left in plain sight. If the killer or killers had simply carried the body another 20 yards into the brush, it might not have been discovered for years. The most plausible explanation was that whoever committed the murder had assumed the body would be rendered unidentifiable by the fire.



Clifton and Glenda Lawrence, later that day, were spending their Saturday evening watching television when the couple's youngest daughter, 15-year-old Toni, walked through the front door, followed by her best friend, Hope, and Hope's parents, Carl and Gloria Rippey, all with solemn faces. Before her parents could say a word, Toni began babbling incoherently, obviously upset and in a state of near shock. Concerned, Clifton instructed Glenda to take Toni to another room while he talked to the Rippeys.


Carl Rippey told Clifton that the girls had said that they had witnessed a murder earlier that day. He said the details were sketchy, but that he felt they were telling the truth. After absorbing what he had just heard, Clifton asked the Rippeys to accompany him to the police station, but they refused, insisting that they were going to talk to an attorney.


It was just after 9:00 p.m. when the Lawrences arrived at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in Madison. Upon learning that a young girl and her family claimed to have information regarding a murder in Jefferson County, Sheriff Shipley quickly ushered them into his office. Toni Lawrence stated that she had spent the previous night with two friends, Hope Rippey, 15, and Laurie Tackett, 17. The three had driven to New Albany in Tackett's car and picked up Melinda Loveless, 16, a friend of Tackett's whom Toni had not met before. After picking up Loveless, they had gone to a hard-core punk rock show for a few hours and then headed back toward home. Toni said that on the way back Loveless began talking about a girl named Shanda, saying that Shanda was trying to steal her girlfriend and that she wanted to kill her.


Before the Lawrences left the police station, they informed Sheriff Shipley of the Rippeys' plan to get an attorney. As he was deciding what to do next, Shipley received a missing person's report from Clark County. Shanda Sharer, 12 years old, had been reported missing by her parents some eight hours earlier. Shipley felt his heart sink as he read the description — blonde hair, five feet tall, around 100 pounds. The description matched his Jane Doe. Shipley then started the paperwork to get warrants for the arrest of Laurie Tackett and Melinda Loveless. As investigators rushed to get their paperwork in order, they received word that the teeth of the victim matched the dental records of Shanda Sharer. No matter which direction the case went now, the hardest part was at hand — Sheriff Shipley had to notify Shanda's parents.
Shanda's parents, Jackie Vaught and Steven Sharer, were excited at first when the police contacted them. They were certain that their little girl had been found and that they would be reunited with her; however, as soon as they saw the look on Detective Henry's face, they knew something terrible had happened. There is no right way to tell parents that their child is dead. Regardless of the eloquence or sensitivity of the messenger, the impact on the family remains the same. When Detective Henry told them Shanda was gone, Jackie became hysterical.
It was almost 2:00 a.m. by the time Sheriff Shipley and Detective Henry acquired arrest warrants for Tackett and Loveless. Laurie Tackett's vehicle had been spotted at Melinda's mother's house, so it was there that investigators decided to serve the warrants.


When the two men knocked on the door, Melinda's mother, Margie, answered. They quickly explained why they were there and asked her where the girls were. Margie told them they were upstairs, so the investigators made their way up to Melinda's room. Entering the room they found Melinda and Laurie in bed, asleep. Henry yelled for the two to get up. As they arose from their slumber, he informed them that they were both being arrested on charges of murder. The two teens were then led out of the house in handcuffs and transported to the police station, where they were booked and jailed.


On Sunday morning, Dr. George Nichols conducted Shanda's autopsy. The procedure revealed that she had suffered multiple injuries. Ligature marks were found on her wrists, and she had several lacerations on her head, neck and legs. Shanda's fingers were in such distorted condition that they had to be cut off in order to take prints. Her jaw was also removed so that her dentist could make a positive identification. The upper part of the body was covered in third and fourth degree burns, and her tongue protruded through clenched teeth. Lacerations to the anus and rectum indicated a blunt object had been inserted at least three and a half inches. In addition, the extent of rectal bleeding showed that she had been alive at the time of the assault. Most revealing of all was the discovery of soot in the upper airway, indicating that she had been alive when she was set on fire.
Investigators questioned both Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett before transporting them to the Indiana Circuit Court in Madison. A single count of murder was entered against both girls, and counsel was appointed to represent them. In a separate hearing, Judge Ted Todd waived both girls from the juvenile court system, determining that they would be tried as adults. Following Loveless and Tackett's hearing, prosecutor Guy Townsend spoke with Hope Rippey's attorney regarding her involvement.
By this time, the media were swarming all over the case, and it was making national headlines. The public was in shock and demanded quick justice for Shanda. The media attention also brought forth several teens who knew the accused and felt they had interesting tidbits of information to contribute. Apparently Loveless and Tackett had confessed to at least three people, two of whom swiftly made statements to Shipley and Henry. The facts were starting to fall into place, and investigators were slowly piecing together what had happened to Shanda. While each of the girls tried to play down her own role in the murder, most of their statements matched. Prosecutor Guy Townsend was confident. There was no way Shanda could be brought back, but he was determined that she get justice. A picture, based upon the girls' confessions, statements by witnesses and evidence uncovered by investigators, was beginning to emerge of Shanda Sharer's last hours of life, which would make that possible.


By the night of Friday, Jan. 10, 1992, Melinda Loveless had reached her boiling point. Her girlfriend, 14-year-old Amanda Heavrin, had been cheating on her with Shanda, and she was fed up. It was now time for her to show them just how serious she was. Laurie Tackett was coming over, and Loveless knew that she would be more than happy to help her put a plan into action. Loveless had always thought Tackett was strange, because she dabbled in the occult and claimed to have another personality that was a vampire; but she was, after all, a devoted friend and had often talked about killing someone for the fun of it.
Tackett picked up two of her friends on the way to Loveless' house, 15-year-olds Hope Rippey and Toni Lawrence. Lawrence had never met Loveless before, and Rippey had met her only once or twice herself. When the girls arrived at Loveless', they all went upstairs and began chitchatting about what the night had in store. All of them had lied to their parents earlier that day, telling them they were spending the night at a friend's house. As the girls sat around talking, Loveless pulled a large kitchen knife out of her purse and said she was going to use it to scare someone. She then told Rippey and Lawrence about the problems she had been having with Shanda Sharer.
Loveless obtained Sharer's address, and before long the girls were en route to her house. They had a difficult time locating it, but after asking directions a few times they eventually found it and parked half a block away. Since Rippey and Lawrence had never met Sharer, Loveless instructed them to go to the door, claiming to be friends of Amanda Heavrin. Loveless wanted the girls to lure Sharer out to the car. When the girls knocked on the door, Sharer answered. Lawrence and Rippey explained to her that they were friends of Heavrin, and that she was waiting for her at a deserted stone building in the woods called the Witches' Castle. Sharer said she could not go then because her parents were up, but told them she would sneak out around midnight if they wanted to come back. Lawrence and Rippey agreed and headed back to the car. Loveless was angry that Sharer was not with them, but she calmed down when they told her about Sharer's plan. Since they had time to kill, the girls decided to go to a concert at a nearby state park.


It was after 12:30 a.m. by the time the girls made their way back to Sharer's house. Lawrence did not want to go back up to the door, so Rippey and Tackett agreed to go. Loveless was the only one of the bunch that Sharer knew, so she hid in the back seat under a blanket. Sharer was waiting at a side door when Tackett and Rippey walked up. They explained that Heavrin was still waiting for her and that she had sent them back to pick her up. Sharer was hesitant at first, but Rippey was able to convince her to go, and soon they were all getting into Tackett's car. Lawrence slid out of the front passenger seat so that Sharer could sit in the middle, and they were on their way. Tackett explained to Sharer that the Witches' Castle was a short drive away in Utica, and that it used to be the home of nine witches who controlled the town. As they drove to the castle, Rippey asked Sharer questions about Heavrin and their relationship. Sharer said that they had been going out for quite a while and that she really cared about her. Suddenly, Loveless popped her head from the backseat, grabbed Sharer by the hair and placed the knife to her throat. Sharer cried and begged Loveless not to hurt her, but for the remainder of the ride Loveless berated her and repeatedly referred to her as a "bitch," all the while holding the knife tightly against her throat.


Sharer was sobbing uncontrollably by the time they reached the Witches' Castle. Loveless and Tackett pulled her out of the car and held her arms tightly as Rippey and Lawrence illuminated the trail to the castle with lighters. Once inside, Loveless tied Sharer's hands as Rippey taunted her with the knife. Loveless then took several pieces of Sharer's jewelry, which she and Lawrence put on. Rippey decided she liked a musical Mickey Mouse watch Sharer was wearing, so she took it for herself.
It was dark in the castle, so Tackett took an old t-shirt and started a fire. As the flames grew, Tackett pointed at the fire and told Sharer that that was what she was going to look like before the night was over. Sharer was so frightened that she could not even speak; she just sobbed uncontrollably. Tackett was growing nervous as several cars drove by the castle and suggested they leave and go to another place by her house, so the girls dragged Sharer back to the car and drove off with their prisoner.
When the girls stopped at a Five Star station, Sharer was stuffed behind the back seat and covered with a blanket as Loveless stood guard. Tackett pumped gas while Rippey went inside to pay, and Lawrence made a phone call to a friend. During the conversation, Lawrence mentioned nothing of Sharer being held captive. For someone who later claimed to be very distraught over the night's events, she made no attempt to seek help. As soon as Lawrence hung up the phone, the group hit the road again.


It was after 12:30 a.m. by the time the girls made their way back to Sharer's house. Lawrence did not want to go back up to the door, so Rippey and Tackett agreed to go. Loveless was the only one of the bunch that Sharer knew, so she hid in the back seat under a blanket. Sharer was waiting at a side door when Tackett and Rippey walked up. They explained that Heavrin was still waiting for her and that she had sent them back to pick her up. Sharer was hesitant at first, but Rippey was able to convince her to go, and soon they were all getting into Tackett's car. Lawrence slid out of the front passenger seat so that Sharer could sit in the middle, and they were on their way. Tackett explained to Sharer that the Witches' Castle was a short drive away in Utica, and that it used to be the home of nine witches who controlled the town. As they drove to the castle, Rippey asked Sharer questions about Heavrin and their relationship. Sharer said that they had been going out for quite a while and that she really cared about her. Suddenly, Loveless popped her head from the backseat, grabbed Sharer by the hair and placed the knife to her throat. Sharer cried and begged Loveless not to hurt her, but for the remainder of the ride Loveless berated her and repeatedly referred to her as a "bitch," all the while holding the knife tightly against her throat.


It took nearly an hour for the girls to reach Madison. Tackett pointed out her house, and a few miles later they pulled onto an old logging road and stopped. Rippey and Lawrence got out of the car and Loveless and Tackett yanked Sharer from the back seat. Loveless untied Sharer's hands and ordered her to remove her clothes. It was bitterly cold, so Rippey and Lawrence got back in the car and took up positions next to the window to watch what happened. Sharer stripped down to her panties as Loveless threatened her with the knife. Loveless then scooped up the clothes and threw them in the car, telling the others that she wanted them as souvenirs. Rippey picked up Sharer's polka-dot bra and put it on as Lawrence turned on the radio.
Tackett grabbed both of Sharer's hands and held them behind her back so that Loveless could hit her. Sharer begged them to let her go and swore to stay away from Heavrin, but each plea was answered by Loveless' command for her to shut up. Suddenly, Loveless punched Sharer as hard as she could in the stomach, and Sharer collapsed to the ground. Through gasping breaths, Sharer begged them to stop hurting her. Sharer's cries fell upon deaf ears; Loveless picked her up by the hair and repeatedly slammed Sharer's head into Loveless' knee. The multiple blows caused Sharer's braces to cut into her lips, and blood flowed from her mouth.
As Sharer lay on the ground moaning, Loveless pulled out the knife and tried to cut her throat, but it proved too dull to cut the skin. Rippey then jumped out of the car to help hold Sharer down as Loveless tried using her foot to force the knife, but again it failed to have any effect. Unable to slit Sharer's throat, Loveless and Tackett took turns stabbing her in the chest with the knife. The wounds were not severe enough to cause immediate death, so Tackett decided that they would have to strangle Sharer and ran back to the car for a length of rope. Sharer continued to beg for her life, but Loveless simply laughed in her face. When Tackett returned with the rope, Loveless sat on Sharer's legs as Tackett straddled her chest. Tackett then wrapped the rope around Sharer's neck and pulled with all her might until Sharer's body went limp. Uncertain if Sharer was really dead, the girls tossed her body into the trunk and headed for Tackett's house.


When the group got to Tackett's house, the girls went upstairs to her room, and Tackett pulled out some stones and tried reading their future. Just as Tackett said that their futures looked good, her dog began barking. When the girls listened out the window, they could hear Sharer's muffled screams. Tackett ran into the kitchen, grabbed a paring knife, and ran outside. She threw open the trunk and without warning stabbed Sharer multiple times, hoping to silence her. Finishing, Tackett closed the trunk and returned to her room, where the others were waiting. She was covered in blood. After a brief pause, Tackett announced that they needed to go for a ride. Rippey and Lawrence refused, so Loveless and Tackett left by themselves.
As Loveless and Tackett drove around, deciding what to do next, they stopped to see whether Sharer was dead. When the trunk lid opened, Sharer sat up, covered in blood with her eyes rolled back in her head. She tried to speak, but was only able to utter the word, "mommy." Tackett then reached into the trunk, picked up a tire iron, and struck Sharer on the head. She then closed the trunk and they were on their way again.
A short time later, as they traveled down winding back roads, they heard gurgling noises coming from the trunk. Tackett quickly pulled the car over to the side of the road to assess the situation. Loveless stayed inside while Tackett walked to the rear of the car and opened the trunk. Sharer was lying on her side. She looked as though she had been painted red and strange gasping and gurgling noises were emanating from her chest wounds. Tackett grasped the tire iron again and brought it down hard on Sharer's head several times. One of the blows was so severe that a chunk of Sharer's skull broke off. Satisfied with her handiwork, Tackett shut the trunk and walked back to the front of the car. When she got inside, she placed the end of the tire iron under her nose and smelled it. She began laughing as she explained what had happened and waved the tire iron under Loveless' nose.
The sun was starting to rise, so they decided to head back to Tackett's to burn Sharer's body. Along the way, they stopped several times to try to quiet Sharer with the tire iron. Back at Tackett's, the two girls woke up Rippey and Lawrence and bragged about the blows they had inflicted upon Sharer. Afterward, they explained their new plan, and Rippey and Lawrence followed them to Tackett's burn pile.


The girls quickly discovered that their plan would not work. The burn pile was covered in frost, and they did not have any gasoline to start a fire. Instead, Tackett decided to show Rippey her handiwork. Lawrence did not want to look at the body so she was told to start the car and rev the engine if Sharer started to scream. When Tackett opened the trunk, Rippey noticed a bottle of Windex next to Sharer, so she picked it up and began spraying Sharer with the cleaning liquid. As the Windex fizzled in her wounds, Sharer somehow managed the strength to sit up. Her body was covered in blood, and her eyes were pure white. Sharer began swaying back and forth as Tackett talked to her, but she said nothing in response. At some point about this time, the evidence suggests the girls sodomized Sharer with the tire iron; however none of them has ever admitted any knowledge of the wounds inflicted to her anal cavity. Tackett's mother then yelled out the door for her, causing Tackett to slam the trunk down on Sharer's head.
Once Tackett returned from the house the girls decided it was time to end Sharer's life once and for all.
As the girls drove down the road, they again concluded that the best way to get rid of Sharer was to burn her. Tackett pulled into a Clark Oil station north of Madison to fill up the gas tank and asked Lawrence to buy a two-liter bottle of soda to fill with gas. Finishing their business at the gas station, the girls then drove out to Lemon Road. Rippey was familiar with the area and suggested that it would be a good spot to get rid of Sharer.
When they spotted an old logging road they turned in and stopped the car. Tackett opened the trunk, and Loveless and Rippey helped her pick up Sharer with the blanket with which they had covered her earlier. Lawrence chose not to help and sat in the car watching as they carried Sharer several feet behind the car before laying her on the ground. Rippey took the bottle of gasoline and poured a significant amount on Sharer; then Tackett struck a match and threw it down on Sharer's gas-soaked body. The gasoline instantly ignited, and the fire appeared to be burning well. The girls hopped back into the car and began to pull away when Loveless became nervous and told Tackett to turn around. She wanted to make sure the body was burning. Back at the scene, Loveless grabbed the bottle with the remaining gasoline and ran over to Sharer's body. She stood staring momentarily as Sharer curled up into a fetal position and her tongue darted in and out of her mouth. After she felt she had seen enough, she poured the remaining gasoline on Sharer's smoldering corpse and ran back to the car. Loveless thought Sharer's death throes were funny and described them to the others.
Sharer was finally out of Loveless' life for good. Tackett had seemed to enjoy herself during the crime, and Rippey and Lawrence must not have been too shaken up, because they had had several opportunities during the night to summon help for Sharer, but they had chosen not to. All of their exertions had tired them, so they stopped at a McDonald's on their way back. During breakfast, Tackett and Loveless joked several times about the resemblance of the sausages they were eating to Sharer. Afterwards, Tackett drove Rippey and Lawrence to their homes and went with Loveless to her house. They had decided earlier that Tackett would sleep over, but first they wanted to make some calls and brag about what they had just done.


It did not take prosecutor Guy Townsend long to bring charges against Hope Rippey and Toni Lawrence. On March 15, 1992, he charged both girls with murder, arson, battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery, criminal confinement, and intimidation. During their arraignment, Judge Ted Todd waived both into the adult system. Following their brief appearance they were taken to the Jefferson County jail to await trial. Later that same afternoon, Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett were brought before Judge Todd and charged with seven additional crimes, including child molestation and criminal deviate conduct. A month later, on April 9, 1992, Townsend filed an additional count of felony murder against Loveless and Tackett.
On April 22, 1992, Toni Lawrence accepted a plea deal with the state. In exchange for testimony against the other three girls and a guilty plea to the charge of criminal confinement, Townsend agreed to drop all of the other charges against Lawrence. For this guilty plea Lawrence would face six to 20 years behind bars, at the sentencing judge's discretion. Many people were angry about the plea agreement, but Townsend felt it was necessary in order to have an eyewitness for the state.
Unmoved by the state's new witness, Loveless, Rippey and Tackett repeatedly turned down offers from the state. In response, Townsend filed death penalty specifications against Loveless and Tackett on July 13, 1992. In addition, he filed another charge against both girls — conspiracy to commit murder. Because of Rippey's age, Townsend could not file death penalty specifications against her.
On August 17, 1992, Toni Lawrence was discovered slumped over in her cell. She was rushed to Scott Memorial Hospital in Scottsburg, where it was determined that she had taken an overdose of Lorazepam, an antidepressant drug. It was later learned that she had been saving her prescribed daily doses for some time in order to make a suicide attempt. Lawrence was initially comatose and remained in the intensive care unit for eleven days before regaining consciousness. Following her recovery, Judge Todd ordered that she be transferred to Lifespring Mental Health Facility in Jeffersonville for evaluation. Lawrence remained in the custody of mental health officials until October 1992, when she was transferred back to jail.
On September 21, 1992, Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett decided to accept a plea bargain with the state. Both would plead guilty to the murder and torture of Shanda Sharer and to arson and criminal confinement. In exchange, the state would drop all other charges and withdraw the death penalty specifications against them. The agreement specified that they both cooperate with the state and that their ultimate sentences run concurrently.
According to the book Cruel Sacrifice, by Aphrodite Jones, just eight days after her plea agreement, Melinda Loveless was caught having sex with an employee at the Clark County Jail. The employee subsequently resigned, and Loveless was transferred to the Indiana Woman's Prison. No charges were filed.
In November 1992, Tackett and Loveless attended separate plea agreement hearings in which they admitted to their actions in the death of Shanda Sharer. Judge Todd set both sentencing hearings for December 14, 1992. The following day Hope Rippey's trial date was set for March 1, 1993. Regardless of her cronies' actions, she continued to maintain her innocence.


During the first week of December 1992, Laurie Tackett gave an exclusive interview to Chris Yaw, a reporter from WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. During the five-minute interview, Tackett repeatedly blamed Melinda Loveless for Shanda's death.
"I didn't think she was going to go that far," Tackett said. "It wasn't really the fact that I can't believe I'm doing this. It was the fact that I can't believe this is happening. I told her it was stupid.
"Shanda hugged me. She asked me not to let Melinda do it. She was crying...there wasn't anything I could do."
Tackett went on to say that she expected to beat the charges against her and that she planned on pursuing a degree in child psychology.
On December 10, 1992, Judge Todd accepted Toni Lawrence's plea agreement in exchange for her full cooperation. Reporters from all over the United States were already making their way to Madison in anticipation of the girls sentencing hearings.
"The age of innocence here ended about 10:45 a.m.. last January 11 on a dirt road fifteen miles out of town," wrote Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Grossman. "It's like you look at the Leopold and Loeb case, recast it for girls, and set it in Main Street, USA," he added.


On December 14, 1992, the opening day of the sentencing hearing for Melinda Loveless, television trucks lined the street outside the Jefferson County Courthouse. The courtroom was packed with reporters, onlookers, and family members from both sides. As the session began, prosecutor Guy Townsend described to the court in vivid detail the events of Sharer's abduction, torture and murder. Over the next several days Toni Lawrence, Laurie Tackett and several friends and acquaintances of Loveless were called to testify against her. Townsend also called Donn and Ralph Foley, Sheriff Shipley, Detective Henry, Sergeant Wells, Dr. George Nichols and several members of Sharer's family.

In the end, the most compelling and heart wrenching testimony came from Shanda's mother, Jackie Vaught. She began with a video, which was a collection of photographs of Shanda at different stages in her life. As the tape played, Vaught narrated the photos. Following her presentation, she read a previously written statement to the courtroom running approximately 45 minutes.
"It has obviously shattered all of our lives. I speak for all of us when I say I don't think there is anything worse than burying your own child.
"I can't control my emotions most of the time, and I cry because I want my baby back. I want her home for Christmas this year, but I can't have her. This year I didn't get to buy Shanda any presents. There are no presents for her under my tree.
"Melinda has cheated me out of being with my daughter during this life. It is my wish for you [Melinda] that you live your life with memories of her screams and the sight of her burned and mutilated body. I'm not sure who you love most in life, Melinda, whether it be your mother or your father, but I want you to imagine them in the trunk of that car. I want you to imagine the person you love the most begging and screaming for their life. I want you to imagine that person being the person lying on the ground who was burned and mutilated. Maybe then, and I doubt this seriously, you could feel a small portion of the pain our family feels. The proper punishment for Melinda would be to place her in a cell with pictures of Shanda's burned body and force her to continually listen to a tape of my daughter screaming like she did that night.
"I hope and pray you remember these words for the rest of your life. — May you rot in hell."
At the conclusion of Vaught's testimony, Judge Todd announced that he would wait until after Laurie Tackett's sentencing hearing to pronounce both girls' sentences.




Laurie Tackett's sentencing hearing began on December 28, 1992, and was almost identical to that of Melinda Loveless's. Townsend more or less recounted the same events and the witnesses varied little. In addition, Loveless and Lawrence both testified as part of their plea agreement.
On the morning of January 4, 1993, Melinda Loveless stood before Judge Todd awaiting her sentence. He began by citing all the factors involved in the case, including the "gruesome nature" of the crime and the victim's age. After a brief pause, Judge Todd sentenced Loveless to 60 years in prison, the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement.
"You still have time to turn your life around and do something good and useful with your life after prison," Todd said as Loveless began weeping uncontrollably. "Shanda Sharer does not. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity."
Melinda sobbed uncontrollably as she was led away and Laurie Tackett was brought in. The judge again cited the factors involved in the case and passed down an identical sentence. Tackett, stone-faced, did not flinch during the proceeding.
Just two days after the sentencing of Loveless and Tackett, Sharer's parents filed a $1 billion dollar lawsuit against all four girls. The suit was filed after a Louisville television station reported that Tackett was negotiating to sell her story to a movie production company, and that Loveless was also considering various offers she had received. Sharer's parents never expected to collect any of the money and wanted to discourage the girls from profiting at their daughter's expense. That same day, Jackie Vaught gave a brief interview to The Courier Journal.
"It's appalling to think that they could profit from killing Shanda, but I can't say I was shocked to hear about their plans. I know the horrible things these girls are capable of," she said.
Clark County Circuit Judge Daniel Donahue agreed with Jackie and quickly issued a temporary injunction blocking the girls from making any deals to sell their story.
Despite Judge Donahue's injunction, Indiana law mandates that any money a felon receives for publication or broadcast rights be deposited in a violent crime victim's fund; hence it was, and remains, highly unlikely that the girls would ever be able to profit from their crime.


Toni Lawrence's sentencing hearing began on January 19, 1993. The hearing lasted a mere two days, during which time investigators praised Lawrence for her cooperation and several teachers, family members and friends testified on her behalf. Lawrence was also granted permission by the court to read a statement of her own to Sharer's family.
"I'm so sorry about your little girl. I know that you can never forgive me for being with those girls on January 10th and 11th, but I would like to explain some things to you.
"I do feel very much remorse for your daughter. I've been locked up for ten months, and that time has been a living hell. I've had nightmares where I wake up screaming and can't stop to think for a second without seeing Shanda's burned body or hearing her screams. I was terrified of Melinda and Laurie. Melinda had a knife and was going to kill Shanda. I know I should be punished, but in my heart, seeing Shanda tortured and burnt was punishment in itself. I didn't get help because I was scared they would kill me too.
"That night and morning will live visibly in my mind for the rest of my life. I know you have the right to hate me. I wish there was something I could do for you, but all I can say is how very sorry I am."
Following Lawrence's statement, Jackie Vaught took the stand and gave her reply.
"I sat through three sentencing hearings and had to look and listen to my daughter's murderers day after day while they lied and put on acts worthy of an Oscar . . . I see attorneys trying to convince everyone that these girls are victims. The victim here is Shanda Renee Sharer and her family and friends. Toni could have saved my daughter's life that night at any given time. She chose not to."
When court reconvened the following morning, Judge Todd sentenced Toni Lawrence to serve 20 years in prison, the maximum sentence allowed by law. Lawrence broke down and cried as deputies led her away.


Hope Rippey ultimately accepted a plea deal as well, and her sentencing hearing began on June 1, 1993. At the request of the defense, the hearing was moved to South Bend, Ind., and was held at St. Joseph's Superior Court House with Judge Jeanne Jourdan presiding. At the outset of the hearing, Rippey made a statement maintaining her claim that her only action against Shanda had been pouring the gasoline on her body. Following her brief statement, the defense called psychologist Michael Sheehan to the stand. Dr. Sheehan stated that Rippey was immature and had acted solely under the domination of Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett. However, testimony by Lawrence, Loveless and Tackett painted a different picture. The prosecution also called witnesses from the previous three proceedings. The last to testify was Sharer's mother, Jackie Vaught. As she once again showed the video of Sharer to the court, she became angry when Rippey held her head down. In response Judge Jourdan ordered Rippey to watch the presentation. Following the video, Vaught made a brief statement.
"Imagine how you would feel if someone did to your niece what you did to our child. You cannot know the pain we've felt. There is no greater pain than losing your child."
After a short recess, Judge Jourdan sentenced Hope Rippey to the maximum sentence of 60 years, but suspended 10 years for mitigating circumstances, ordering her to be placed on probation for 10 years at the time of her release. Judge Jourdan then made her own statement to the court.
"Hope Rippey had choices. There were avenues of escape, ways to help herself, ways to help Shanda. She poured the gasoline so no one would get caught, even though she knew it would kill Shanda. Her lack of mercy, of tender courage, is a horrifying lesson to us all."
Following Rippey's sentencing, Jackie Vaught spoke to the press from the steps of the courthouse.
"I don't know what normal is anymore, I'm not the person I was when Shanda was here. I'm going home to my new grandbaby who was just born. You have to go on. Shanda's with God."


In the spring of 1994, Toni Lawrence received her GED. Four years later, on Nov. 10, 1998, she was denied early release from prison. During 2000, she received an associate's degree, which reduced her prison sentence by nearly one year.
In March 2000, Crime Library reporter David Lohr sent a letter to each of the convicted murderers asking for their opinion as to why someone would kill. Only two responded, Laurie Tackett being the first:

"Let's say, for instance, I know a couple of people who kill simply for the fear that they see in their victim's eyes, and for the sight of blood on their bodies...my opinion is that they do it to feel superior or high on the victim's fear, and they're thirsty for the spill of blood."
The only other reply came from Toni Lawrence. In some ways her views were similar


"I think the first time one kills, they kill to get that high that they could never obtain any other way."
But it is a separate, more telling paragraph that catches the attention:
"So you write Laurie? How about Hope — Melinda?...I don't mind about Laurie — please tell her I think of her daily and that I'm ok."
The above statement leads one to seriously question some of Toni's statements regarding her relationship with Laurie and her participation in the murder of Shanda Sharer. It seems odd that someone would want to send best wishes to a person whom they claimed ruined her life by brutally murdering an innocent girl.
Regardless of her level of guilt, on December 14, 2000, 24-year-old Toni Lawrence walked out of prison on parole after serving nearly nine years of her 20-year sentence. Following her release, Lawrence spoke briefly with Louisville television station WAVE before heading back to Madison with her parents.
"I didn't stop it, I couldn't stop it. I don't care what anyone else says. If I had tried anything different, I would've been dead, lying there with her, and they would never know."
Toni remained on parole until December 2002.
On Saturday, April 21, 2001, 45-year-old reporter for The Courier-Journal Michael Joseph Quinlan, author of Little Lost Angel: The True Story of the Teenage Conspiracy to Kill Twelve Year Old Shanda Sharer, died at his home in Lawrenceburg, Ky., from brain cancer. Following his death, Kathy Quinlan started the Michael Quinlan Brain Cancer Foundation.


On November 3, 2004, Indiana Superior Court Judge Jenny Manier reduced Hope Rippey's prison sentence from 50 to 35 years. According to reports in The Courier-Journal, Judge Manier felt Rippey was remorseful and likely to be productive in society. In making her decision, Manier took into account Rippey's bachelor's degree from a Ball State University general studies program for inmates, along with the time she spent training seeing-eye dogs and speaking to various youth groups. With the judge's decision affirmed, Hope Rippey's earliest possible release date was changed from 2017 to 2006.
Sharer's mother, Jacque Vaught, was angered by the decision. "She's taken every class," Vaught said. "She's gotten every degree she can get, with my tax dollars, I might add. She's done everything she can to get out early. But it's just wrong." The only thing Vaught said she wanted was for Rippey and the others to serve their full sentences.
While the news of Rippey's impending release was difficult for Shanda's family to understand, their anger would once again turn to sorrow when, on May 8, 2005, Shanda's father, 52-year-old Stephen Maloy Sharer, died. The cause of death has not been publicly released; however it has been reported that he was buried in the same cemetery as his daughter.


During the spring of 2006, the news spotlight momentarily switched from Hope Rippey to Laurie Tackett. During the previous year the Indiana Department of Corrections launched a program called PLUS in three of its state prisons. The program, which stands for Purposeful Living Units Serve, is a faith-based boot camp for prisoners intended to change their lives through spiritual renewal and education. In March 2006, Indiana news station WTHR broadcast a report from inside the prison to see how well the program was working. Reporter Anne Ryder interviewed several inmates, including 31-year-old Laurie Tackett.
"I am changing everything I have known all my life," Tackett said. "God was the last thing I wanted in my life. I had no faith in life. I had no faith in God. I had no faith in people. I had none of that. I had to fall on my face and start over." Tackett told Ryder that the shame of her crime defined her until she tried unsuccessfully to take her own life in the fall of 2004. It was then she claims that she felt God's love in her heart. "I took God's hand...I've never felt that before in my life."
Regardless of whose hand Tackett felt soothing her, six months later, when the PLUS program came to the Indiana Women's Prison she was one of the first to sign up. Tackett now supposedly spends her free time studying the Bible and coming to grips with the consequences of her crimes. "I don't think I've really forgiven myself. I feel that's a lifelong process. Hopefully by the time I die I will be able to do that," Tackett said. In a later interview with WTHR, when asked whether she could ever forgive Tackett, Jackie Vaught simply replied, "It's just not up to me to forgive those girls. It's up to God to forgive them."
One must question why it is that Tackett suddenly embraced religion. It is certainly interesting how her conversion to God coincided with Rippey's sentence reduction. The Department of Corrections commissioner and others are quick to defend the PLUS program, and that's fine. It may work for some inmates; however, Laurie Tackett's sudden conversion may well have more to do with her own hopes for early release than it does with finding God.


As Tackett tried to map out her own road to freedom, Rippey was busy packing her bags, and on April 28, 2006, 29-year-old Hope Ann Rippey walked out of Indiana Women's Prison on parole after serving 14 years of her original 50-year sentence. "She tortured her," Sharer's mother, Jacque Vaught, told The Courier-Journal. "She tortured her for 10 hours . . . I do not accept this," she said. "She murdered my daughter . . . I'm just incensed by [the release]," Vaught said. Vaught then reminded reporters how Rippey lured Sharer out of the house, held her down while she was stabbed and strangled, sprayed window cleaner into her wounds and poured gasoline on her so the group could burn her alive.
According to Sharer's mother, Rippey's early release was made possible because the St. Joseph County prosecutor failed to do his job. Vaught was adamant that they could have prevented Rippey's sentence reduction if they had chosen to oppose the sentence-modification motion back in 2004. "She poured gasoline on my 12-year-old child and burned her alive, but she is an asset to society and has strong convictions and is ethical? I don't get it," Vaught said. "I just don't get it."
Regardless of who's right and who's wrong, once again a brutal killer was free to roam the streets of Jefferson County, Ind. Hope Rippey will be required to report to probation officials there; however, she will be under supervision for only the next five years.


In October 2007 Melinda Loveless's attorney, Mark Small, announced that she as well was seeking an early release from prison. Small said he would argue that Loveless's sentencing rights were violated and that she had received insufficient legal representation.
"She pled guilty under duress, believing that she faced the death penalty," Small recently said in an interview with Madisoncourier.com. "A person does something under duress when they can't freely choose and face a threat. The law was changing at that time on the death penalty. At that point she wasn't really looking at execution."
It was Small's belief that his client had served her time and that the judgment should be vacated. She is, according to Small, both reformed and remorseful.
Shanda's mother, Jacque Vaught, was upset at the prospect of Loveless being freed from prison.
"She is not remorseful. She has never contacted me or shown remorse. She is not capable of remorse. She is dead inside," Vaught said in a recent interview with Madisoncourier.com. "The only tears that I've ever seen her shed were when she was sentenced, and the only thing that she has tried to do since going to prison is get out."
According to Jefferson County Prosecutor Chad Lewis, Loveless had adequate legal representation during her sentencing hearing, and he strongly objected to a modification of her sentence.
A Jefferson Circuit Court was expected to hear the case on October 15, 2007; however that hearing was postponed on the grounds that her attorney was denied access to his client before the hearing was to begin.
According to Small, he had attempted to visit Melinda Loveless twice to prepare for the hearing, and both times was refused access to his client because jail officials said they were busy with bookings.
"It's very important for an attorney to consult with his or her client, especially right before a major hearing," Small told Wave3.com.
The judge agreed with Small and granted a 60-day continuance.
Prior to the ruling, Small spoke with News-tribune.net. During a telephone interview, he said that Loveless had been abused as a child and that the severity of the abuse had made her "profoundly retarded." Small also said his client had pled guilty under duress because she was afraid of facing the death sentence and did not understand all her options.
Jefferson County Prosecutor Chad Lewis disagreed with Small. During an interview with the same website, Lewis balked at claims that Loveless had ineffective counsel.
"She had three attorneys, two who were very high-profile with death penalty cases," Lewis said. "She had a dream team, so to speak. . . [She] also had a proven benefit from pleading guilty to the charges in that she avoided the death penalty."


Shanda Sharer's mother, Jacque Vaught, believes Melinda Loveless holds the most responsibility for her daughter's murder. In an October 2007 interview with Wave3.com, Jacque said, "Melinda is...of the four girls, she is just evil...if it wasn't for her, Shanda would still be alive. She was the one who started it all...she brutally murdered my child, and when I say brutal, it was brutal. There were 10 hours of torture."
Jacque also disagreed with statements by Small that Melinda Loveless was remorseful for her crimes.
"I've heard from people who have been in that prison," Jacque said. "They seem to want to contact me, and I've heard things about Melinda, and Melinda relishes the fact that she is Shanda's murderer. She is very proud of that."
After reading a series of news articles published by Crime Library on the Shanda Sharer case, Brenda Nyberg, a reader from Illinois, took action and started a petition to keep Loveless behind bars.
"I've never been compelled to start a petition until I read about Loveless trying to get out," Nyberg said. "I cannot fathom a human being inflicting the torture those girls did on Shanda. I'm a crime buff and read about so many horrible cases, but none has ever affected me as this one has. I just cannot get the images of that child out of my head...it's pure evil, no matter how old those girls were!"
By December 2, 2007, the petition had received nearly 7,000 signatures.
Melinda Loveless's hearing was held on December 6, 2007. During the proceedings, Loveless told Jefferson Circuit Judge Ted Todd that she could not remember most of the legal proceedings that had taken place before she signed her original plea deal, but that it had been her belief that she would receive the death sentence if she failed to accept it.
As of this writing Todd has yet to rule on Loveless's request.
Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett are currently serving out their original sentences. Whether or not Melinda will receive an early release is yet to be determined; however, because of Indiana's policy of reducing sentences by a day for every day served with good behavior, Melinda Loveless and Laurie Tackett could possibly walk out of prison in 2022, when Loveless is 46 and Tackett is 47 years old.


Bibliography
setSize(curSize);
Books/Journals:
Furio, Jennifer. Voices of Women Murderers. Algora Publishing Books; February 2001. ISBN: 1892941597.
Jones, Aphrodite. Cruel Sacrifice. Pinnacle Books; January 1994. ISBN: 0-7860-1063-0.
Quinlan, Michael. Little Lost Angel. Pocket Books; February 1995. ISBN: 0-671-88468-9.
Newspapers:
Johnson County Daily Journal
Times
The Courier-Journal
Dallas Observer
SEI Data Local News
Internet:
http://www.news-tribune.net/
http://www.madisoncourier.com/
http://www.wave3.com/
http://www.aphroditejones.com/

23 comments:

PAUL said...

This is by far the saddest, most horrific murder I have ever heard of. As a mother, my heart breaks for this poor, inocent angel, Shanda. I can't even begin to imagine the pain and loss her family must suffer on a daily basis. A young life ended way to soon at the hands of a group of heartless, vicious teenagers out for a thrill. Thank you for your comprehensive account of this case. I've read many articles online that would rather sensationalize this sensless crime than get to the true heart of the matter. I pray for Shanda and her family often.
Jenn G.

Yosef said...

.....Melinda Loveless did not plead guilty under duress, but : because she did it !
Keep her in jail

xiaomin said...

I'm socked at the original sentences in the first place, and now all of the monsters are about to walk free??? No wonder the crime rate is so high. ... Whoever believes that these perpetrators can turn their lives around and be constructive to the society must have lost their mind, assuming they had one to begin with.

Frankie'sGirl said...

In 1992 I was just 10yrs old. Never hearing about this case, it floored me after seeing just a brief over view the other night on E. Crime has truly increased sense Shanda's brutal murder, but I think little has entered or presented itself in the way of extreme and plotted evil as it did by these four diseased individuals. People like them, to be corrupted at such a young age, are true examples of a mistake that was made from the beginning, conception. All of the organs and parts maybe there, but the soul was never issued.
I fill horrible for her mother, I have a daughter close to the age Shanda was and like she stated "no parent should ever have to bury their child" especially over such an unprovoked and unnecessary reasons. The fact that she has had to spend the last eighteen years struggling to keep the reasons for her nightmares behind bars is infuriating. She had to attend 4 murder trials, give 4 victims statements, and fight the parole and sentence reduction longer than these murders have been in prison. Most could not get through one trial, much less continue life fighting and reminding a justice system of what these people did and why they should remain where they are. I truly feel for her and hope in the future Indiana will put a stop to their consideration to injustice and allow Shanda’s mother to hear her name only in peace and remembrance rather than a having to continuously remind others who have forgotten (the court) of how much Shanda hung onto life through hours of brutal torture wanting to live.

rachel lou 0622 said...

Just read about the story, and I felt really really bad. Even had to skip meal coz I felt kinda dizzy after reading the horrific experiences of Shanda.

For me, Tacket, Rippley and Lawrence all have their choices, and they chose to go on with Loveless' plan. Thus I agree with Shanda's mom that all of them should have the same sentence--death penalty.

NoReasonableDoubt said...

A few days ago Jacque Vaught (Mother of Shanda)spoke at a college, in detail, to the events that happened Jan.11 1992. Her story, Shanda's story, both hurt and outtraged me. The murderers, cold and calculating in their demeanor seem to continue a sinister journey in freeing themselves. Appalled I am to say, 2 are free. People need to be outtraged by this, imagine again the torture that Shanda went through and was shown no mercy...No mercy should be shown to any of these evil, manipulating, cold, violent, criminals!!

Yosef said...

This is terrible and makes me sad

rain said...

This is indeed a horrific murder. I think there are even worst murder cases like that of Junko Furuta,17 years old of Japan who was tortured, raped and burned alive for 44 days. Check this out also for her killers are now free men and one of them killed another person again.

PomeChimu said...

Davvero una grandissima tristezza.

austinovich said...

For those that do not know, Hope Rippey now works comfortably and happily at the Sleepy Hollow Pet Ranch in Indianapollis, Indiana as a Director taking care of pets.  She now only goes by her middle name, Anna.  So "Anna Rippey" works there.  Here is the contact information: 147 W. Tri-Sab Lane Indianapolis, In 46217 (317) 787-8040.  If you really feel for Shanda, you can do a few things: (call over there and ask how they can employ a child murdrer and torturer like Hope Anna Rippey, go over there and picket with a sign in front saying that a child murderer and torturer lives there, or Google Sleepy Hollow Pet Ranch, go to the review websites like I have, and warn people about Hope Anna Rippey working there.  Or better yet, go over there and talk to Hope Anna Rippey personally.

austinovich said...

For those that do not know, Hope Rippey now works comfortably and happily at the Sleepy Hollow Pet Ranch in Indianapollis, Indiana as a Director taking care of pets.  She now only goes by her middle name, Anna.  So "Anna Rippey" works there.  Here is the contact information: 147 W. Tri-Sab Lane Indianapolis, In 46217 (317) 787-8040.  If you really feel for Shanda, you can do a few things: (call over there and ask how they can employ a child murdrer and torturer like Hope Anna Rippey, go over there and picket with a sign in front saying that a child murderer and torturer lives there, or Google Sleepy Hollow Pet Ranch, go to the review websites like I have, and warn people about Hope Anna Rippey working there.  Or better yet, go over there and talk to Hope Anna Rippey personally.

rott_girl said...

This is just sickening. I don't know how our justice system could have even thought of releasing any of these girls. They all should have gotten the death penalty!!! It's just to bad they couldn't be burned alive. They will burn forever in hell one day!

Diane said...

My heart goes out to shandras family. I wish all 4 involved rot in hell for all the hours of torture they put that little girl through. I am outraged that they are not serving their sentences! It makes me lose all faith in the justice system! Where is the justice for the precious angel that was robbed of her life and her family that was robbed of her???

57a303fa-83c9-11e0-92aa-000bcdca4d7a said...

... Each of the girls should have gotten the death penalty at 18... that would have been justice, or worse... prison justice from the inmates... Let each of them who was involved in this bloody murder, endure hell, just as Shanda did... that would be justice!!! ... Even though inmates were in jail, they may have daughters too, so im sure they would want their prison justice.

Nancye1962 said...

When it comes to lies, horrific child murders, and a bunch of IDIOTS that committed these crimes; this story ranks #1. Shanda, I am SO sorry you had to experience what you did at the hands of these '#*holes. May you rest in peace.

Aquarius 1970 said...

I knew girls like this. One recently asked me to be a friend of Facebook, yet I was one of the girls she bullied! She seemingly has no memory. When I heard the details of poor Shanda's happy trusting nature, simply wanting to fit in and these animals, these predators can not ever erase their deeds of the past. If any of them could find themselves talked into doing this once, they could, under the right circumstances, be pushed to do this again. I wish peace for Shanda's family, I really do. For that is the only way that they will finally have freedom from these monsters who think that they have rehabilitated themselves. Save yourselves, Shanda's dear family - That is how, I believe you can really dignify your beautiful daughter's death. Wishing you all the purest form of peace within.

Delicious Talk ❧ said...

Great post! We discussed Shanda's horrific murder in episode #16 of Delicious Talk. Here's the preview: http://youtu.be/pYOHEGiA328?t=55s

nancy said...

For a crime like this, only the death penalty would have sufficed. But, because they were females and young, they were spared. Not correct--evil can have any face, young, old, pretty, ugly, female or male.

Maca (como Mac, pero + a) said...

all my love and good vibrates for all families to shanda, for her mom and sister, and dad (rip).

melissa hope you will be tortured in jail, and then for the rest of your disgusting life in the earth and the hell.

sorry. my english is poor.

Maca (como Mac, pero + a) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maca (como Mac, pero + a) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy Davis said...

If you're interested in a modern-day update on this case, check out http://www.charliesscars.com. Melinda Loveless and Jacque Vaught were interviewed for the documentary titled Charlie's Scars. I think you'll be surprised.

Justice seeker said...

What do I need to do to sign the petition to keep Loveless and Tuckett in jail for life ???? Loveless, even her name says it all.....EVIL does not reform, EVIL never changes !!!!....if they get out on their 40's, they still have plenty of time to continue to harm others, they're lucky to have life in prison,, the life they denied little Shanda of !!....R.I.P....GOD needed a little angel in heaven<3