Criminal Docket: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert Edward LaBarre
At 3:15am on March 24, 2006, just hours after celebrating her 25th birthday, Sheena Villa's skull was crushed ...
and she was rendered brain dead, when Robert LaBarre's out-of-control Lexus GX470 smashed, airborne, into a tree on Parkway Boulevard in Allentown at a speed determined by the police crash reconstruction to have been a minimum of 85 miles per hour on a 35MPH-zoned residential street. Sheena was the front seat passenger. My first-born and only daughter, Sheena Marie Amelia Villa was pronounced dead later that day.
It took DA Jim Martin 10 long weeks to charge Robert LaBarre with any crime, and it's not like there was a cast of a dozen suspects; LaBarre had to be cut out of his crushed vehicle's driver's seat. His blood alcohol content was .24, three times the legal limit. As Sheena's family agonized over the seemingly endless wait, worrying, and wondering if any criminal charges would ever be filed, or not, DA Jim Martin told us nothing and went on a 2-week golfing vacation in Scotland.
Right before the 2006 Memorial Day Holiday, as a favor to my father who was his second cousin, former Lehigh County Commissioner, the late Jack McHugh, phoned DA Jim Martin on our behalf, inquiring, delicately, about Robert LaBarre's projected arrest date, if any. DA Jim Martin's response: "Jack, how did you get mixed up with people named Vee-lah?" Jack McHugh then informed his fellow Irishman DA Jim Martin that the family of Sheena Villa was half-Irish on her father's paternal and maternal sides ("Dougherty," "Morrissey") and that DA Martin likely remembered Sheena Villa's now deceased great-great uncle, prominent local Italian-American attorney, Henry Villa (pronounced VILL-ah).
Less than 48 hours later on June 1, 2006, Robert LaBarre was charged with Vehicular Homicide While Driving Under The Influence and related charges (see CBS-TV Philadelphia coverage). Apparently, being even half-Irish can be very helpful in Lehigh County. But as we'd soon find out, being the son of a connected local attorney trumps being half-Irish.
In August 2006, homicide defendant Robert LaBarre was somehow able to leave the United States and enjoy a 10-day vacation in Belize Central America while out on bail for killing my daughter Sheena. Robert LaBarre's father is Allentown attorney Don LaBarre from the law firm of Gross McGinley (formerly Gross McGinley LaBarre & Eaton). One of Gross McGinley's longtime clients is The Morning Call "newspaper." Many attorneys from Gross McGinley contribute frequently and generously to the Committee to Reelect DA Jim Martin. [Source: Lehigh County Voter Registration Campaign Contribution Records] The Morning Call "newspaper" has refused to disclose and report on any of this.
On November 2, 2006, a trial date was set for February 12, 2007.
By January 2007, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin and Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert L. Steinberg had both received hundreds of letters, in an election year for both of them, about Sheena Villa. The overall tone of these hundreds of letters from friends of Sheena and her family went like this: "We're watching you, so don't even think about trying to fix this case. Do not plea bargain away any of the charges against Sheena's remorseless killer. Give Robert LaBarre the maximum sentence possible. And give Sheena Villa and her family justice."
In mid-January 2007, Sheena's family was anxiously awaiting the trial that was scheduled to start on February 12, 2007. We received no information whatsoever from DA Jim Martin's office regarding what we could expect to see and hear at the trial of our daughter Sheena's killer. For example, would we be exposed to Sheena's autopsy photos? We didn't want to be. DA Jim Martin's office told us nothing.
DA Jim Martin's Tricky & Secret Switcheroos
During the week of January 22-26, 2007, I received a second anonymous phone call. I'm assuming it was from the same female who had called me anonymously in August 2006 tipping me off about Robert LaBarre's AWOL Belize Vacation. Here's what the woman told me during her second anonymous phone call ...
"There won't be a trial starting on February 12th. Robert LaBarre will be pleading guilty on February 2nd."
Still naively clinging to the hope and trust that we would get a fair shake from The Morning Call "newspaper," I immediately called Morning Call "reporter" Manny Gamiz. With me on the line, Manny checked this Lehigh County website, and sure enough, Manny Gamiz was able to determine and confirm for me that the court date, and the court procedure switch, had been made by DA Jim Martin's office on January 17, 2007, nearly 10 days prior. Sheena's family had received no information whatsoever from DA Jim Martin's office regarding this major change in courtroom procedure, and its new date, which had been moved up 10 days, from FEB 12 to FEB 2.
When February 2nd arrived, and dozens of Sheena's friends and family members arrived in Judge Steinberg's courtroom for Robert LaBarre's suddenly not so secret guilty plea hearing, assistant DA Richard Director was visibly taken by surprise. With the "Sheena Squad" there watching, none of the major charges against Robert LaBarre were able to be trickily taken off the table. LaBarre likely pled guilty to more charges than they had planned for him to plead guilty to that day. And having done that, LaBarre was then finally taken away in handcuffs to Lehigh County jail to await sentencing to a Pennsylvania State Penitentiary on April 17, 2007.
Good thing we were there on FEB 2, 2007. Because if we hadn't been, I'm positive Sheena's family would have been victimized all over again by DA Jim Martin.
You see, when the victim's family isn't in attendance for their perpetrator's guilty plea hearing (and DA Jim Martin seems to prefer it this way, hence the secrecy about its date), the DA's office can tell the presiding Judge anything it wants. For example, they could say, "We're dropping 9 of the 14 charges, including the major charge, Your Honor." And the Judge will then dutifully and robotically ask, "Is the victim's family in agreement with this plea deal? And DA Jim Martin's office will then say, "Yup." And it's not the Judge's job to determine if the DA's office is lying ... like they were during this guilty plea hearing in September 2007 when the victim's family was not present and was not in agreement with this plea deal and I know that because they told me they weren't in agreement. They were so pissed off afterwards, they wrote about it at Morning Call.com (see comment #22).
Bottom Line: The Morning Call "newspaper" refused to even discuss any of the many facts in this blog post w/ me in person, forget about reporting on them, despite my 229 polite requests to (now former) top "management."
100% Integrity-Free Morning Call "reporter" Manny Gamiz? I don't know how he can sleep at night or stomach looking in a mirror.
Readers, this is the second post in an ongoing series of LVS blog posts on "Facts The Morning Call "newspaper" refused to cover." See our right sidebar for more revelations.
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