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Alleged Molester Accused Of Killing Family Set To Go On Trial

HARRISBURG, Victoria and Elizabeth Wholaver were less than a month away from testifying against their father on sexual abuse charges when police found them and their mother, Jean, dead on Christmas Day two years ago.
Victoria, 20, and Elizabeth, 15, had obtained a no-contact order against their father, Ernest R. Wholaver Jr., after accusing him of having molested them for years. For added safety, the family also changed the locks.
But in the middle of the night, prosecutors say, Wholaver entered their home and shot each one in the head.
Only Victoria's 9-month-old daughter, Madison, survived the shootings. The infant was found next to her mother's body, crying but unharmed.
Wholaver was to stand trial starting Monday in Harrisburg on three counts of murder, multiple sexual assault charges and one count of trying to hire a hit man from behind bars to frame someone else for the killings.
The capital-murder trial is expected to last at least two weeks.
Lead prosecutor Fran Chardo said Wholaver's motive was to prevent his trial on the sexual assault and related charges.
"He killed the only witnesses against him," Chardo said.
A key witness is expected to be Wholaver's brother Scott, 30, who has already admitted driving Wholaver from his home near Altoona to the murder scene in Middletown. Scott Wholaver's plea to three counts of third-degree murder could result in him serving as much as 25 years.
Inmates who claim Ernest Wholaver admitted to the killings also may testify, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Spero T. Lappas declined to discuss the thrust of his arguments.
"The prosecution obviously will not be able to prove that Ernie Wholaver is guilty of these charges, because he is not guilty of these charges," he said.
Lappas succeeded in getting Ernest Wholaver's statements to Scott Wholaver kept out of the trial, but the brother may still describe how, after a night of drinking at a bar in Hastings, they drove together in the dead of night about 110 miles to the murder scene.
Scott Wholaver has said he believed his brother wanted only to retrieve his dog.
At a preliminary hearing in February 2003, Scott Wholaver testified that his brother wore dark clothing, a mask and two pairs of gloves the night of the shootings. They parked about a block away, and Scott Wholaver testified that when Ernest returned to the Chevy Tahoe truck about five or 10 minutes later, he was "shaking, nervous."
Scott also led police to the alleged murder weapon, a .22-caliber revolver that had been discarded in the woods of Clearfield County.
Ernest Wholaver allegedly approached a fellow inmate last year with a plan to contract with a motorcycle-gang member in West Virginia to kill Victoria's ex-boyfriend and make his death appear to be a suicide complete with a note implicating himself in the women's deaths. An undercover drug agent posed as the hit man.
Wholaver was charged in May 2003 with criminal solicitation.
The jury was picked in Northampton County because of pretrial publicity, and will be sequestered in Harrisburg for the duration of the trial.

AP (22-8-2004)
Mark Scolforo




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