A naive and trusting 16 year old Laurie Show became
entangled in the lives of Lisa Michelle Lambert and her boyfriend,
Lawrence Yunkin. Lambert initially befriended Show, but after Yunkin
allegedly raped Show, Lambert became jealous and enraged, convinced
Show was pursuing Yunkin. Lambert began a campaign of harassment,
stalking Show, often with the assistance of friends.
On December 20, 1991, Laurie Show was murdered in
her home by Lambert and Lambert's friend, Tabitha Buck; Show's mother
found her. Lambert, Yunkin, and Buck were quickly arrested. Yunkin
pled guilty and testified against Lambert in exchange for a reduced
sentence of 20 years, and Lambert and Buck were convicted and
sentenced to life without parole.
Lisa Michelle Lambert is currently
incarcerated at Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Framingham,
Framingham, Massachusetts serving
life without parole for first degree murder of 15 year old
Lambert was convicted on July 20, 1992 for the
December 19th, 1991 stalking, and brutal stabbing murder.
Investigators for the defense stated that it'd been brought to their
attention by those they'd interviwed that "Lisa Lambert was a serious
liar and very good at it." Between her various changing stories about
the killing, claims against her co-conspirators/killers, and her
claims against local police officers who were investigating the
murder, Lambert has certainly lived up to those claims.
Lambert was previously incarcerated in Cambridge
Springs Correctional Facility, Pennsylvania but was transferred to
Clinton, New Jersey, then to the Women's Correctional Facility at
Baylor, Delaware. Later she was transferred to Framingham,
Lambert's co-conspirators Tabitha Buck was
convicted of second degree murder and received a life sentence.
Lawrence Yunkin intially received a year in prison under a plea
bargain, but that deal fell through because of his perjury and he was
sentenced to 10 to 20 years. Yunkin served 12 years and was released
1992: Lambert filed post verdict motions claiming
that her conviction was "against the weight of the evidence."
1994: The physical findings at the crime scene, the
testimony at trial of the defendant, the trial testimony of Hazel
Show, the history of ill will between defendant and the victim and the
circumstantial evidence developed at trial all lead to the conclusion
that defendant was guilty of the murder of Laurie Show.
1996: Lambert filed a lawsuit claiming that prison
guard James Eicher had attacked her six times during 1994, and that
another official had fondled her. Further, that she was videotaped
during a strip search. Eicher was convicted of aggravated indecent
assault and sentenced to two years in prison.
1997: Lambert was freed briefly when a federal
district judge ruled that Lambert was "actually innocent." A Federal
Appeals court overturned the ruling and Lambert was returned to
prison. The court found that Lambert had brought her case to the
Federal Courts prematurely without exhausting her opportunities for
appeal in Pennsylvania.
1997: Lisa Lambert's appeal - DENIED
1998: Conviction upheld, Lambert's claim that she
was framed by prosecutors rejected.
1998: Request for release during appeal- DENIED
2003: Eight Law Enforcement Officers cleared of
misconduct in Lambert's case.
2005: Appeal to the Supreme Court - Supreme Court
refused to hear her case. Incarcerated in Clinton, N.J.
Lambert has now exhausted all of her
appeals. She will continue
to serve out her life sentence.
2007: A Lancaster County judge has determined that
a civil lawsuit filed by State Correctional Institution-Cambridge
Springs inmate Lisa Michelle Lambert against administrators at the
facility for allegedly failing to prevent her from being sexually
abused by employees was scheduled to be heard by a jury.
2007: The state of Pennsylvania has decided to
settle a lawsuit brought by convicted killer Lisa Michelle Lambert,
who claimed she was sexually assaulted by guards at the Cambridge
Springs State Correctional Institution. The civil lawsuit had been
placed on hold until Lambert had exhausted all of her appeals in her
criminal case. The money, $35K, will go to pay court costs,
restitution, and if any is left, will go to Lambert's parents, who are
raising her and Lawrence Yunkin's daughter.
Laurie is never far from their minds
Teen was murdered 20 years ago Tuesday
By Cindy Stauffer - LancasterOnline.com
December 19, 2011
Lisa Michelle Lambert is 39 years old and lives
inside a Massachusetts prison. The convicted killer earned a college
degree behind bars, where she has spent almost all of her adult life,
save for a 10-month period of freedom.
Tabitha Buck is 37 and housed at a state prison for
women in Muncy in northeastern Pennsylvania, where she has tutored
other inmates as she serves out a life sentence that began before she
graduated from high school.
Lawrence Yunkin is 40. Now freed from prison and
living in the area, he has become a good bowler and has 302 friends on
But Laurie Show is forever 16, a pretty,
dark-haired teen who was looking forward to getting her driver's
license and hoped to some day be a nurse or a hairdresser.
Exactly 20 years ago this morning, Yunkin drove
Lambert and Buck to Laurie's mom's East Lampeter Township condominium.
The two young women burst inside and attacked
Laurie. Lambert slit the young woman's throat and killed her in a fit
of jealous rage, while Buck sat on Laurie's legs.
The case is perhaps the county's best-known murder
It catapulted onto the national stage in the late
1990s, when Lambert appealed her life sentence. She alleged
prosecutors tampered with evidence to frame her for the murder so they
could silence her about an alleged gang rape by police, a charge later
rejected by the court.
A federal judge agreed, briefly freeing Lambert
from prison in a move that stunned many here. She then had a series of
well-publicized appeals — one which reversed the federal judge — that
went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The highest court refused to hear Lambert's case in
2005. In recent years, the national spotlight has turned to Amanda
Knox, Casey Anthony and others involved in lurid crimes.
Time, and life, has moved on.
The district attorney at the time became a county
The county judge who heard her case and declared
her guilty — twice — became a federal judge who works in the same
courthouse as the federal judge who freed Lambert after declaring her
The two see each other regularly but never speak of
The Philadelphia attorney who handled Lambert's
defense appeal moved to Vermont, where she now works on the other
side of the lawyering aisle, prosecuting sex crimes.
Life marched on for Show's parents, John Show and
Hazel Whitehead, who lost their only daughter on Dec. 20, 1991.
But much remains painfully unchanged.
Divorced from John Show at the time of the murder,
Whitehead , now 60, remarried 10 years ago but is separated. She works
at a local outlet store.
She has stayed in the same condominium. Despite the
murder, it is the spot of her happiest memories with her daughter, she
said, and she would not consider leaving it.
Whitehead feels her daughter's presence there, she
said, when her television set and vacuum cleaner switch on by
themselves or a light flickers.
"It makes you more comfortable to think she's
nearby," she said. "I know, technically, she's in heaven, but
sometimes I think she's saying, 'Hey mom, I'm still here. I'm watching
out for you.' "
Show, 60, retired from his job working for a farm
machinery manufacturer a few years ago, but then got called back to
He enjoys his godchildren but thinks about the
grandchildren he never will have. He speaks to others who have lost
loved ones, and hosts an annual candlelight service for them.
To most people, he will always be simply Laurie
A horrific day
Hazel Whitehead left her home 20 years ago today
for what she thought was an appointment with her daughter's guidance
counselor at school.
She did not know the call was a ruse to get her out
of the house.
1991 had brought a difficult fall for Whitehead and
her daughter. Yunkin had briefly dated Laurie, during a time he had
broken up with Lambert.
Later, Lambert and Yunkin got back together, and
Lambert allegedly was furious that Yunkin had dated the younger girl.
Lambert called Laurie's home, harassed her and made
plans to cut off her hair, Whitehead and other witnesses said.
Things were about to come to a terrible climax.
After Whitehead left her home, Yunkin dropped off
Lambert and Buck nearby, according to trial testimony. Buck knocked on
the door, the two forced their way in and Laurie was killed in a
Buck said Lambert sliced Laurie's throat. Lambert
said Buck and Yunkin did the killing.
A 1992 trial followed, and Lambert chose to have
her case heard solely by a judge. Lancaster County Judge Lawrence
Stengel got the case.
"I remember the high level of emotion," said
Stengel, now a U.S. District Court judge who has offices in
Philadelphia and Reading. "It was a horrific story that was difficult
At the end of the trial, Stengel found Lambert
guilty and sentenced her to life in prison.
In separate proceedings, Buck was found guilty and
also sentenced to life in prison. Yunkin pleaded guilty and was
sentenced to 10 to 20 years for his part in the murder — driving the
two young women back and forth and helping to get rid of evidence.
Lambert doggedly appealed her case. In 1997, after
a three-week federal hearing, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell
freed her, saying she was "actually innocent" and noting there was
"wholesale prosecutorial misconduct" in the handling of her case.
Joseph Madenspacher was the district attorney, the
county's top prosecutor at the time. On that day, he asked Dalzell if
Lambert could be reimprisoned or placed on bail during her pending
Newspaper accounts from the time noted that Dalzell
chuckled and peered over his bifocals at Madenspacher, saying, "Motion
It was a rough moment but Madenspacher, now a
Lancaster County judge, said he was "virtually 100 percent certain" at
the time that the full court would reverse Dalzell's decision.
Almost 10 months later, Lambert was returned to
prison. She then ended up in Stengel's courtroom again as he presided
over a hearing in her case that drew national attention with its
wide-ranging and often bizarre accusations of prosecutorial
Lambert's Philadelphia attorneys, Christina
Rainville and Peter Greenberg, accused prosecutors of moving Show's
body to shoot bogus crime-scene photos, switching pieces of evidence,
tampering with crime-scene videotapes and committing dozens of
All of the prosecutors were later cleared following
a federal probe of the case. Dalzell, whose chambers are in the same
federal building as Stengel's, declined to comment when contacted
about the case.
Christy Fawcett was the prosecutor in the case
before Stengel. Then with the state attorney general's office, she's
now a U.S. attorney in Harrisburg.
The Lambert case consumed three years of her life,
she said. The elements of it — the teenage love triangle, the "lurid
allegations" of prosecutorial misconduct — made it a riveting case.
Fawcett said the case came along just as court
cases began to capture the entire country's attention on television.
The national media descended on Lancaster for the
hearing before Stengel. ABC later featured it on "20/20." The Los
Angeles Times wrote about it. The New York Times editorialized on it.
There was a book and television movies.
The case also helped to spawn state anti-stalking
laws in Pennsylvania.
"It was totally engrossing," Fawcett said, noting
that she still thinks about it.
She believes the case showed how important is the
responsibility of a lawyer, and the danger of becoming overzealous in
representing a client.
Though her job and her life has changed in the past
20 years, her opinion of the case has not, she said.
Lambert was and is guilty, she said.
Now 48 and living in Bennington County in southern
Vermont, Rainville said the Lambert case still deeply disturbs her, as
does the fact that Lambert remains in prison.
Rainville and Greenberg retired to Vermont in 2005,
the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Lambert's
She volunteered for a while at her children's
elementary school, volunteered at a public defender's office and then,
bored, decided to go back to work. Greenberg remains retired, she
Rainville is the chief deputy state's attorney in
Bennington County, a role similar to that of an assistant district
attorney in Pennsylvania. She feels comfortable as a prosecutor in
Vermont, where she said the procedural rules are different from
She specializes in the prosecution of child sex
offenders, work she finds satisfying.
"Working with children and giving them a voice,
it's very rewarding work and I totally love it," she said.
Though her professional contact with Lambert ended,
her personal contact did not. Rainville said she remains in touch with
Lambert, and communicated with her as recently as a few weeks ago.
While in prison, Lambert earned a degree from
Boston University, graduating with honors, Rainville said. She
believed Lambert's major was criminal justice.
"She's just an exemplary person," Rainville said.
"And she's lived an exemplary life in prisom."
Lambert's time in prison, however, has not gone
She has bounced around, spending time in prisons in
Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
In 2007, Pennsylvania paid her $35,000 to settle
her allegations of sexual abuse by prison guards. One of those guards
was fired and convicted of indecently assaulting her.
In addition to earning a degree behind bars,
Lambert became a mother.
She was pregnant with Yunkin's baby at the time of
Laurie Show's murder. She gave birth to a daughter a few months later.
Her parents, Leonard and Judy, obtained custody of
the child. The couple divorced in 2009, local court records show.
Now a 19-year-old, Lambert's daughter is the same
age her mother was at the time of Laurie Show's death.
It is not known where she lives. Rainville said she
did not want to discuss the personal details of Lambert's life.
Rainville said she has never wavered in her belief
that Lambert is innocent.
"Not one bit," she said. "I think all the more she
didn't do what she was convicted of."
"For me, professionally, it remains the most
disturbing outcome of any case," she said. "It's upsetting to think of
her being in jail that long.
"That's a life lost."
The life forever lost
For Hazel Whitehead and John Show, the life that
has been lost is that of their only child.
There has been no graduation from high school or
college to celebrate. No one to walk down the aisle. No grandchildren
Though 20 years have passed, for them, the loss of
their daughter seems like it happened just yesterday.
Whitehead said she has worked hard not to become
angry. She gets up and faces every day and tries to make it the best
"I just look back on the life that I had with
Laurie, and the good times, and try to stay focused on that," she
She keeps things to herself, she added. Other
people's lives have moved on, and she does not want to bore them with
talk of her 16-year-old daughter who is never far from her thoughts.
Her daughter's photos remain in her house. Her memories remain vivid.
"I don't see me, in my lifetime, at a point where
she's not in my present thoughts," she said.
Show said he is glad he is still working. It keeps
him occupied and busy. He's grateful for his godchildren and tries to
treat them like his own grandchildren.
An only child, he is the last of his immediate
family. Both of his parents have died since Laurie's death.
Today, he'll carry a single rose to the cemetery
where his daughter is buried.
"It hurts," he said. "I see people who have
children, family. Hazel and I don't have any grandchildren. It's tough
and it hurts."
Neither he nor Whitehead have run into Yunkin since
he was released from prison in 2003.
Yunkin's probation ends today, on the 20th
anniversary of Laurie's killing.
Since his release, newspaper records show he was a
regular bowler at Garden Spot bowling alley in Strasburg, the same
bowling alley where he bowled with Lambert and Buck before the killing
and where he was arrested afterward.
Yunkin returned to Garden Spot about two years
after he left prison and continued bowling there until a fire
destroyed the alley this summer.
He has a Facebook page, which shows a tattoo of a
purple ribbon with the words "Live Strong" and "Just Do It."
He could not be reached for comment.
Whitehead said she receives an occasional
restitution payment from Yunkin. He was ordered to pay almost $12,000,
and still owes more than $7,000, court records show.
It's her reminder that he's out there, and that he
has to think of her daughter from time to time, she said.
"The money doesn't matter but he should be made
accountable for what he helped to do," she said.
Whitehead and Show also have not heard much about
Buck in recent years.
Her family left the area after her arrest and are
believed to live in Oregon, thousands of miles away from where she is
In the past two decades, Whitehead said she has had
time to come to a certain sort of peace about what happened.
"Life goes on," she said. "You have to do your best
to continue to do what you can to make your life better and to help
"I truly believe God has a plan for me. I don't
know if I've totally figured out what it is, but I'll keep working at
Over the Memorial
Day Weekend, buried in a long list of orders connected to petitions
for review of lower court rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court finally put
to rest the tortuous case of murderer Lisa Michelle Lambert.
Lambert was convicted in 1992 of
slashing the throat of her rival, 16-year-old Pennsylvania high school
student Laurie Show. Lambert was one of three teenagers connected to
the slaying that ended a long-simmering feud between the two girls
centering around the father of Lambert’s unborn child. The apex of the
love triangle was Lawrence “Butch” Yunkin, Lambert’s abusive live-in
boyfriend who, after Lambert left him for a week, began dating Laurie
Lambert and Yunkin eventually
got back together, but Lambert remained jealous of the two dates
Laurie and Yunkin had.
So, in July 1991, Lambert
“devised a plan to enlist the help of several other teenagers to
humiliate Show by luring her out of her home, cutting off her hair,
and tying her up to a pole within the City of Lancaster,” wrote
then-federal appeals court judge Michael Chertoff in one of Lambert’s
last appeals. “The plan did not come to fruition because two of the
girls involved eventually warned Show.”
On August 20, 1991, Lambert
encountered the Shows at a store. Lambert “came up and started
screaming and yelling all kinds of obscenities and just being very
vicious,” Hazel Show would testify. One thing Lambert screamed was
that Yunkin and Laurie had had sex during their brief relationship.
Hazel Show told Lambert that Yunkin had raped Laurie, and that they
might press charges if Lambert continued to harass Laurie. In fact,
Laurie Show reported to police on July 31, 1991 that Yunkin had date
Things apparently simmered over
the fall, flaring up in November.
At trial, two witnesses would
testify that Lambert beat Laurie’s head against a parked truck during
an altercation in a mall parking lot. According to one witness,
Lambert said that if she found out Show told the police about the
incident she had “friends that would take care of” Laurie and she
would kill her.
Hazel Show learned what happened
and, despite Lambert’s threats, reported the incident to the police
that same day. However, simple assaults necessarily get low priority
and an investigation was not begun until December 16. Two days later,
a friend of Lambert’s tipped her to the fact that the police were
looking for her and that the Show family was planning to press charges
against Lambert and Yunkin.
On December 20, 1991, an
anonymous caller claiming to be Laurie’s school counselor contacted
her mother and made a bogus 7 a.m. appointment for a meeting. While
Hazel Show was away from home, Lambert, Yunkin and their friend
Tabitha Buck paid a visit to the Shows’ condo where Laurie was alone.
They brought with them a knife
from the home Yunkin and Lambert shared, along with rope and two black
knit hats Lambert bought a day earlier at K-Mart.
One witness testified that on
the morning of Laurie’s murder, he heard the front door slam above
him, followed by a scream and a thump on the floor of the bedroom. Six
or eight minutes later, he heard the door slam again. At that time,
around ten or twelve minutes after 7 o’clock, he looked out the window
and saw two people of identical height (approximately 5-foot, 7-inches
— Yunkin is 6-foot, 1-inch) exit the stairwell.
Determining what happened in the
condominium would take about 13 years and result in some of the most
dramatic reversals of fortune since the Claus von Bulow trials.
The end result,
however, was horribly clear.
When Hazel Show returned to her
home after the school counselor failed to appear for the non-existent
meeting, she found her daughter bloody and dying on the floor of the
There was rope tied around
Laurie’s neck, she testified, which she cut with a knife from her
kitchen. “Laurie Show breathed deeply after the rope was cut, and her
mother held and cradled her,” one appellate summary reads. “Hazel Show
would testify that she asked her daughter who had attacked her, and
Laurie Show answered ‘Michelle did it.’ Lisa Lambert was also known by
her middle name — Michelle,” Chertoff wrote in his summary of the
The teenager subsequently died
in her mother’s arms.
Police arriving at the scene
found clumps of hair on the floor.
The medical examiner found
several bruises on Laurie’s head from a blunt force, three cuts on her
back due to stabs from a knife, one of which penetrated through the
right lung. The girl suffered two wounds on her legs, including a cut
to her thigh that penetrated to her pelvis, twenty one cuts on her
hands — thought to be defensive wounds — and a big slashing wound on
her throat that was the result of at least three strokes. The ME
testified that the wounds to Laurie’s neck and the deep wound to her
back were fatal, and he believed that she at the outside, lived
perhaps 30 minutes after the attack.
He also testified that, despite
the wounds to her neck, he believed she could talk, although “not in a
regular tone but a whispering, mumbling, intelligibly enough for
someone who is close to this person to understand what [she] was
saying.” Dr. Joseph S. Annese, another expert witness for the
Commonwealth, also offered his opinion that Show could speak the words
“Michelle did it” despite the wounds she sustained.
Because of the well-known
acrimony between the girls, police quickly homed in on their suspects.
Police found Lambert, Yunkin,
and Buck at a local bowling alley that night and brought them in for
According to their court
testimony, Lambert’s story changed a few times over the course of
“Lambert eventually settled on a
version of events in which Buck was largely responsible for Show’s
murder,” Chertoff’s summary reads. “(Police) transcribed Lambert’s
statement, and Lambert ultimately signed it. In the statement, Lambert
admitted that it was her idea to go to Show’s apartment because she
wanted to talk to Show. According to Lambert’s statement, Buck went
alone to knock on Show’s door because Show’s mother knew Lambert.
Lambert went into the apartment after she heard someone answer and the
door shut, and she found Buck struggling with Show. Buck attacked Show
with a knife, Lambert told (police), and she ‘just stood there’
because she ‘was so scared.’ Eventually, Lambert said, she ‘couldn’t
look anymore and I turned away.’”
Yunkin, who was offered (by his
own attorney’s account) “the deal of the century” in return for his
testimony, told the trial judge who heard the case in place of a jury
that Lambert and Buck took showers after the murder. At that point,
Lambert told him that Buck and Show were wrestling and Show
accidentally got stabbed in the back, causing a hissing sound as if
her lung were punctured. Lambert said that she and Buck agreed to slit
Show’s throat “to put her out of her misery,” but she never told
Yunkin if they went through with it.
“By contrast, at trial and
before us,” wrote federal district court Judge Stewart Dalzell in his
opinion on the case. “Lisa Lambert contended that she was an innocent
bystander who watched helplessly as a “prank” spun horribly out of
control at the hands of Yunkin and Buck.”
In 1997, Dalzell issued a
scathing opinion that found overwhelming proof of prosecutorial
misconduct and conspiracy, and granted Lambert’s request for a writ of
habeas corpus. The State’s case was so
tainted with fraud and injustice, according to Dalzell, that Lancaster
County “lost its soul and almost executed an innocent, abused woman.”
He barred the state from retrying Lambert, finding her “actually
(A finding of actual innocence,
as that term has come to be used in federal habeas corpus
jurisprudence, is not the equivalent of a finding of not guilty by a
jury or by a court in a bench trial.” Lambert v. Blackwell,
134 F.3d 506, 509 (3d Cir. 1997).)
Dalzell’s lengthy and literary
opinion can be summarized via two footnotes from a subsequent
appellate court decision: “The alleged misconduct includes altering
Lambert’s statement to the police; creating a false crime scene
photograph to discredit her; knowingly presenting perjured testimony
and failing to take remedial measures after the perjury was confirmed;
knowingly presenting ‘expert’ testimony that was scientifically
incredible while tampering with the defense’s expert; altering
evidence and witness statements; failing to disclose Brady and Giglio
evidence; and ‘losing’ other exculpatory evidence.
“The after-discovered evidence
allegedly consists of alterations of Lambert’s statement; alteration
of crime scene evidence; scientific testing of clothing worn by
Yunkin; photographs of the crime scene which revealed additional
writing in blood by the victim that exculpates Lambert; autopsy report
notes revealing the time of the victim’s death; injuries incurred by
the ‘real’ killers, Yunkin and Buck; testing of blood found on the
victim’s ring; statements made by Yunkin and Buck to their friends;
and, the subsequent admission by the prosecution that the primary
witness against Lambert–and one of the ‘real’ killers–had committed
perjury at Lambert’s trial.”
It would take the prosecution a
little less than a year to get the federal Third Circuit Court of
Appeals to overturn Dalzell’s ruling and order Lambert back to prison.
The appellate court found that
Dalzell (or rather Lambert) had jumped the gun because the prisoner
had not exhausted all of her state remedies before going to the
Back in the state court system,
Lambert found the judges much less understanding than Judge Dalzell.
Lambert’s Post Conviction Relief
Act hearing commenced on April 30, 1998. Closing arguments occurred
eight weeks later on June 24, 1998. The PCRA court decided 28 motions
with orders and authored 4 opinions. The court’s principal opinion
exceeds 320 pages. Ultimately, the PCRA court denied Lambert relief on
November 23, 1998.
On appeal in 2000, the
Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the PCRA court’s holding and did
not find the conspiracy Dalzell saw.
“The PCRA court permitted
counsel to defend Appellant’s rights with zeal, bringing to the
attention of the court all of the errors that, according to Appellant,
caused her an unfair trial,” the Superior Court wrote. ” The PCRA
court allowed her to reiterate her claims and explore every avenue for
relief. The PCRA court demonstrated remarkable patience and
thoroughness throughout the proceedings, which provided for review on
appeal over eight thousand pages of testimony from trial and the PCRA
hearing, along with other filings, as well as the PCRA court’s three
hundred and twenty (320) page main opinion.”
Between 2000 and
May, 2005 the question of whether Lambert participated in the murder
took a backseat to procedural questions involving the PCRA and the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
In the end, only
Dalzell remained convinced of Lambert’s innocence as court after court
reviewed the case and decided the former teenage killer deserved to
spend the rest of her days behind bars.
The Murder of Laurie Show
By Kristal Hawkins - Trutv.com
Introduction: An Amish Country Rashomon
"Michelle did it." Blood gurgled from a deep,
gaping cut along Laurie Show's throat. The 16-year old died in her
mother's arms, whispering her killer's name: "Michelle did it."
At least that's one version of the story: Clinging
to her last seconds of life, Laurie Show revealed to her mother that
Lisa Michelle Lambert angered because her boyfriend, Lawrence "Butch"
Yunkin, had confessed to a sexual entanglement with Showwas the one
who had stabbed her. Then again, experts suggested that version wasn't
possible. Michelle in turn pinned the killing on Butch, as well as on
her new friend Tabitha Buck. One judge would believe Michelle; another
wouldn't. Small-town chameleon Lisa Michelle Lambert would spend the
next 14 years editing and refining her version of the story, ever
reweaving a scandalous murder tale that would come to include
allegations of abuse, mishandled evidence and courtroom bias.
This Christmas murder reverberated not just through
bucolic, Amish-settled Lancaster County, Pa., but also through the
U.S. legal system. What really happened at East Lampeter Township's 92
Black Oak Drive on December 21, 1991? Which of the suspects and
witnesses should one trust, which of their battling lawyers, or which
of the judges charged with sorting through their stories.
A Mother's Nightmare
Thursday night a guidance counselor at Conestoga
Valley High School, where Laurie was a sophomore, called to ask Hazel
Show to come in to talk about her daughteror so Mrs. Show thought.
When the divorced mother arrived at the school at 7:00 a.m. the next
day, the counselor wasn't there, and there was no record of anyone
having made an appointment, or of any problems with her likable
16-year-old daughter. Mrs. Show went home, where her daughter should
have been getting ready for her last day of school before winter
vacation. Outside, a panicked neighbor asked if something was wrong;
she had heard suspicious noises. Inside a shocking scene greeted Hazel
Show. Her only child lay covered in blood from multiple wounds, with a
rope around her neck. As she untied the rope, Mrs. Show saw the worst
of the wounds: a long, deep cut along her daughter's neck, pulsing
blood at an alarming rate. It was then, cradling her dying daughter
and trying in vain to hold the horrible wound together and staunch the
bleeding, she would later testify that she heard Laurie declare
troubled, abrasive Lisa Michelle Lambert the killer.
Mrs. Show already knew of Michelle's vendetta
against Laurie. The two girls were open enemies. When Michelle, then
19, and her longtime boyfriend, Butch, 20, had split up over the
summer, Laurie had gone out on a few dates with him. Butch allegedly
had raped Laurie in his truck at the end of their last date. He had
then reunited with Michelle, who was already pregnant with his child.
By fall, Michelle was living with him again, in his remote trailer on
the other side of town. And yet Michelle's hatred of Laurie not only
continued to simmer after she got her boyfriend back, it publicly
boiled over. She regularly taunted and humiliated the younger girl in
front of their friends. After Michelle attacked Laurie in a local
mall, Mrs. Show changed the family's phone number and even tried to
file an order of protection against the girl.
Butch seems to have been afraid that he might do
jail time for raping Laurie. He urged Michelle and Tabitha, a 17-year
old Conestoga student who'd recently moved from Oregon, to beat Laurie
up. The three were spotted around the Shows' condominium complex the
morning of the 21st, East Lampeter Township Police Department and
state troopers confirmed. By the time the trio left, Laurie had
suffered a five-inch gash to the throat; a stab wound that punctured a
lung and another that grazed her spine; several wounds to the head;
and a number of defensive wounds. Police picked up Michelle, Tabitha
and Lawrence at the Garden Spot Bowling Alley in nearby Strasburg
later that day, and charged each of them that Saturday.
Trial and Appeal - A Murderer Becomes a Victim
At first the process was quick and straightforward:
the perpetrators went to trial in 1992. Tabitha was found guilty of
second degree murder and sentenced to life. Lawrence initially was
sentenced to just a year, arranging a plea bargain and testifying
against his girlfriend and friend, insisting he'd merely dropped them
off and headed to McDonald's. When prosecutors determined he'd
committed perjury in the other trials, Lawrence was tried and found
guilty of third-degree murder and sentenced to 10 to 20 years.
Michelle waived her right to a trial by jury, and
Common Pleas Judge Lawrence F. Stengel found her guilty. It took just
seven days for prosecutors to show Stengel that Michelle and Tabitha
killed Laurie, and that Butch drove them to and from the crime. He
found Michelle guilty of first-degree murder. Because this was her
first offenseand because she was by then the mother of a baby
girlStengel spared her the death penalty, sentencing her to life in
She began serving time in prison in Cambridge
Springs, Pa., and finding it a very rough world indeed. She accused a
prison guard of raping her between May 1993 and October 1994; and
prison authorities punished her for this by sentencing her to solitary
confinement rather than pursuing an investigation. When the guard was
finally tried and convicted, Michelle was moved to a New Jersey prison
(later authorities would transfer her to Massachusetts) to protect her
from vengeance of the other guards, who she said had done nothing to
stop the rapes. She also claimed another guard had assaulted her, and
that some had videotaped her during a strip search. In 2007, after
disagreements as to whether there was enough evidence for her ensuing
lawsuit to proceed to trial, Pennsylvania would settle out of court,
paying Michelle $35,000. The money would go to court costs and
restitution owed, with anything leftover going to support her child.
Michelle's initial appeals were each rejected, but,
in New Jersey in 1996, she sent a handwritten petition of appeal to a
Federal court in Philadelphia. Very few such petitions get a hearing,
but U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, then 54, thought the case
deserved further review. He named the firm of Schnader, Harrison,
Segal & Lewis to take the case. Christina Rainville, then 37, would be
their litigator. The pugnacious Rainville would succeed in getting
Dalzell to reevaluate every aspect of the trial. She recast Michelle
as an abused and manipulated innocent; and she defined police and
prosecutors as incompetent or biased in their roles.
Michelle Becomes Lisa
At the time of the Show killing and her first
trial, Lisa Michelle Lambert was easy to think of as a bully capable
of murder. She was a loud, rough girl from a lower class Lancaster
family, heavily made up and provocatively dressed. Neighbors called
her white trash. By her 1997 appeal, she had let her bleached hair go
back to its natural brown, and, with Rainville's help, she dressed
down. She was quieter, almost demure, and determined to seem
respectable. Saying that she'd gone by her middle name, Michelle, to
please Yunkin, she started calling herself Lisa again.
Her relationship with Butch, she claimed, had been
violent and unpredictable. The met at a public swimming pool in 1990,
and started off just as he and Laurie would the next summerafter a few
dates, Michelle claimed, he raped her in his van, parked right in
front of her parents' home. Michelle stayed with her handsome blond
roofer and lumberyard worker. Her family followed a strict Christian
morality; and she claimed to have thought it was better to stick with
the boy who raped her but might marry her, and to wear skimpy clothing
to please him as a properly submissive woman. Or maybe Butch's power
over her was just that strong
The domineering young man determined what she wore,
she claimed, and he wouldn't let her learn to drive or return to high
school. They fought frequently, and he beat her regularly. Their sex
life was marked by terror she recalled: he would cut his cheeks and
tower above her in bed, bleeding on her, and he brutally sodomized her
at least once, according to her mother, who found the bloodied sheets
after a hysterical call from Michelle.
Domestic violence expert Ann Burgess would testify
that Michelle had become incapable of leaving Butch. She suffered from
battered woman syndrome. She taunted Laurie to keep the other girl
awayand to please her man. But murder, she claimed, was not part of
Michelle's plan. Michelle said that Tabitha had stabbed Laurie, and
that she had tried to stop her. Failing, she fled, but Butch stopped
her at the condo stairway.
That explanation satisfied Judge Dalzell. On April
15, 1997, he freed Michelle, saying not only that there was enough
prosecutorial misconduct to call her guilty verdict into question, but
that she was in fact innocent. In an unusual and controversial
decision, he barred Pennsylvania from retrying her. There were indeed
irregularities in the police and prosecution's handling of the case,
but thisand Michelle's claims of innocencewould be further complicated
as the case dragged on and on.
Problems With The Prosecution?
According to Dalzell there were at least 25
instances in which prosecutors and police had bungled the case,
improperly dealing with evidence and witnesses, entering perjured
testimony, and so on. Among the problems that he cited:
Prosecutors at first turned over to the defense
an edited, soundless tape of the crime scene investigation. Only
when the defense finally obtained a full copy did defense learn that
it showed that police had found the bag in which Michelle said she'd
thrown Butch's bloody shoes.
The collection of photos that investigators
shared with the defense omitted those that showed blood spatter
patterns and footprints that corroborated Michelle's story.
Bloody-speckled sweatpants supposedly worn by
Michelle during the murder and produced in the trial seemed to have
been replaced with another larger and bloodless pair in the hearing
with Judge Dalzell.
A defense expert in forensic pathology, Isadore
Mihalakis had shocked defense lawyers by agreeing with the
prosecution that it was possible that Laurie had been able to name
her killer despite the extent of her throat wounds. Mihalakis, it
turned out, regularly testified for Lancaster County prosecutors,
and was making more and more money doing soand had been interviewed
by them inappropriately. New experts Rainville consulted insisted
that Laurie's severed carotid artery would have made it impossible
for her to speak.
However, the US Attorneys office and state Supreme
Court did not uncover prosecutorial misconduct. Dalzell's decision
provoked outrage in Lancaster County, in Philadelphia and across the
country. Acknowledging holes that damage a case is one thing;
pronouncing innocence and forbidding retrial is another. Critics
called this an example of an activist judge setting a dangerous
precedent. They wondered how Dalzell could be so easily swayed by this
manipulative, dangerous young woman, and how he could readily brush
away some of the strongest evidence in favor of Michelle's guilt: her
Michelle Blames Butch and Tabitha
Ten months after Judge Dalzell released her, a
federal court invalidated his decision and sent Michelle back to
prison, noting that her normal appeals process hadn't run its course.
In 1998, the case climbed the appeals ladder, reaching Judge Dalzell
once again. By then, objections to Dalzell's ruling had reached a
peak. National commentators, local residents and prosecutors urged him
to recuse himself from the case. He maintained he was impartial, but
ultimately he did remove himself, saying that he was convinced of both
her innocence and his fairness, but that he didn't want the public's
opinion of him to tarnish the legal process. The case went back to
Judge Stengel for retrial.
This time, Michelle needed to call her friends'
reliability into question. As she told it, after Butch dropped them
off, she and Tabitha went into the Show condo to intimidate Laurie.
Tabitha, she says, soon had Laurie on the floor and was pummeling her.
Michelle, wrongly thinking her rival was also pregnant, tried to stop
Tabitha to protect the unborn child. Tabitha responded by hitting
Michelle with such force that she fell back against the wall; then
Tabitha hit Laurie so hard that her neck snapped. Then Tabitha began
sawing Laurie's throat with the knife. Laurie continued struggling,
and Tabitha stabbed her in the back. Defending herself, Laurie fended
off the blade with her hands, while begging a frightened Michele not
to leave her. Michelle tried to pull the critically wounded girl out
the door, but lost the tug-of-war to Tabitha. Dropping the beaten
girl's hand, Michelle fledand passed Butch on the stairs who commanded
her to stay put. When he and Tabitha came back down, Michelle was
still there, so the three piled into his car, and went back to Butch's
trailer to clean themselves up and dispose of the evidence.
According to Michelle's retrial testimony, Laurie
died only after Butch choked her and Tabitha stabbed her in the leg.
Butch, she says, begged her to cover for him; out of love or fear, she
obeyed. In this version of Michelle's story, she was not there for the
death blows. Pennsylvania state law determines guilt by one's presence
at a murder, and does not limit guilt to the person who pulls the
trigger or brandishes the knife.
Tabitha and Butch's Stories
In the 1998 retrial, Tabitha Buck finally revealed
the details of her version of that dark December morning. She swore
that Michelle slit Laurie's throat once, then a second time make sure
she was dead. It was, Tabitha said, as if Michelle were slicing
breadbut for the rushing, wet noise as Laurie's blood drained out.
The night before the killing, Michelle and Tabitha
had made breakfast plans. First, Michelle told her, they would stop by
Laurie's; she warned Tabitha to wear her hair up and not to wear
make-up or fingernail polishin case anything went wrong. Butch dropped
them off at a field near The Oaks Condominiums and the girls went
inside. Once they were in the apartment, Michelle pulled out a butcher
knife and lunged for Laurie; Tabitha said she tried to separate them.
That gave Laurie an opportunity to make it into her bedroom, but not
as far as the phone. Michelle caught her again and beat her with the
blunt end of the knife. When Laurie reached for a pair of scissors,
Tabitha kicked them out of her reach. And then Michelle demanded that
Tabitha cut Laurie's throat. Tabitha refused. Laurie struggled;
Michelle's knife scratched Laurie's hands and legs multiple times as
the younger girl tried to get away. Tabitha blocked her escape, and
Michelle stabbed Laurie, then went for the throat.
Or so Tabitha said. She offered this level of
elaboration on her basic story only when Christina Rainville tried to
get her to recant it. In 1996, Rainville wrote to Tabitha to try to
persuade her that if she would change her testimony and help prove
that Butch was the killer, she could get a new trial herself. Tabitha
however refused the offer, and held fast to her original statement,
saying that Butch was not present at the killing and did not
participate in the crime. She contacted her own attorney, Russell
Pugh, with her full confession. Michelle paid her back by suggesting
that Tabitha had committed another murder while living in Alaska
(which she left at the age of 4) and that Tabitha's father, Alvin,
Lawrence "Butch" Yunkin always insisted he'd only
dropped Tabitha and Michelle off, and that he did not enter the Shows'
condo building. In exchange for a light sentence, he testified against
Michelle. Dalzell found that Butch's 1992 statement was questionable,
saying that the tape had been started and stopped at several points,
and that police had rehearsed it with him; Butch's attorney, Doug
Cody, denied this. Yunkin never changed his story; Michelle did,
ultimately claiming that she had been protecting the man she feared
and loved. Butch's family testified, too. His aunt, Jennifer Mowrer,
said that Michelle had not only confided her plan to kill Laurie, but
that she admitted the murder afterward. His mother, Jackie, testified
that she'd found a poem in which Michelle described the murder.
But Michelle's attorney had a few more tricks, and
she wasn't going to give up without playing them to the hilt.
More Defenses: The Impossibility Of Speech, Blood Writing, A
Letter, Gang Rape
With Butch and Tabitha sticking to their original
stories, Michelle and her team needed to get more creative, or at
least more insistent.
Experts were arguing over whether or not it was
possible for Laurie to rasp the killers name through her gushing fatal
wound, but Michelle had another idea: Laurie must have tried to write
Tabitha and Butch's initials in her own blood in her bedroom in order
to communicate that they were her killers. However, experts from the
University of Tennessee and the FBI were unable to find any bloody
writing at the scene.
Michelle contended, too, that she had a letter from
Butch in prison showing his guilt and exonerating her. It had been a
small piece in the 1992 trial, but Rainville resurrected it on appeal.
In the letter, Michelle asks Butch 29 questions, saying that these are
things she must know if she's too take the blame. Dalzell seems to
have considered this Butch's confession. But Judge Stengel concluded
that the letter was inconclusive evidence at best: it was largely
illegible, full of erased and written-over lines, and it made very
Most seriously of all, Michelle alleged that three
East Lampeter Township police officers gang raped her several months
before the murder. Her defense attorneys not only argued that this led
the authorities to be biased against her, they suggested that they may
have framed her, setting her up to take a murder rap in order to get
her out of the way and save themselves.
Judge Stengel's Version Of The Story
Little wonder, then, that Judge Stengel's verdict
was so different from Judge Dalzell's. He decided against Michelle,
setting out his thoughts in a lengthy, scathing opinion paper. If
Dalzell's sympathy for Michelle was bewildering and highly
questionable, Stengel's mockery of her defense was almost as shocking.
Here's how he countered some of Dalzell's major
The river-born shoe that Rainville suggested
prosecutors were hiding was half-rotted and apparently had been at
the mercy of the elements for several years. Police ignored it
because it was obviously not the shoe they were looking for.
Similarly, a bag the defense argued was wrongly overlooked was
ignored because it was a stray trash bag and not relevant to the
Additional photos that ostensibly supported
Michelle's story would not have changed the outcome of the trial.
Regarding the allegedly swapped sweatpants with
blood evidence, Stengel simply declared that it would be "silly" to
try such a ruse, and that the size question could easily have been
settled by having Michelle try them on. A small amount of blood,
experts said, would likely have deteriorated over time.
Experts didn't agree with each other as to the
extent of Laurie's wounds and the likelihood of her being able to
name her killer. If nothing else, she may have been able to mouth
the killer's name before dieing, and her mother could have
Furthermore, Michelle's alleged gang-rape by East
Lampeter Township police was not connected to a cover-up or set-up by
police. The first officer on scene, if he even knew about such a rape,
could not have spontaneously come up with and enacted a plan to
Federal Judge Anita Brody agreed with Stengel and
upheld his decision, but the damage had been done, and it wasn't just
the Show family that Michelle had destroyed.
In killing Laurie Show, Lisa Michelle Lambert also
helped ruined the lives of Lawrence "Butch" Yunkin and Tabitha Buckand
of her own family.
Butch had physically attacked Michelle's younger
brothersages 3 and 10 at the timebefore the murders. The Lamberts say
they tried to protect their daughter when they first discovered
Butch's violent streak, but that they had to consider their other
children. They insist they did not, as reported, pressure her to stay
with the boy because of his uncle's position in their church. But when
things got too rough, they asked her to leave home.
The Lamberts stood by Michelle through the trial
and first appeals, but Rainville's antics proved too much. In 1998, on
the final day of the Stengel appeal hearing, Leonard and Judy Lambert
issued a public statement denying Michelle's charges that an unnamed
family member had assaulted her. They said that Rainville had tried to
persuade them that talking about this would help Michelle's case. The
Lamberts said the story was a lie, and they were outraged that
Rainville tried to draw their younger children into the deceit, asking
them to testify and coaching them on how to answer questions.
Sadly, the argument between Michelle and her
parents seems to come down to book rights. The Lamberts wrote a book
about the case in 1993, and they say Lisa signed a contract granting
them the legal rights to the story. During her temporary release in
1997, she demanded that the rights be returned, and threatened a
lawsuit. The Lamberts complain that Michelle's legal problems have
left them financially devastated and that they intend to hold on to
these rights in order to recoup some of their losses. They're still
raising Michelle's teenage daughter.
In 2004, three 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
judges (one of whom was Michael Chertoff, later to become head of the
Department of Homeland Security) rejected Michelle's appeal. It was a
simple matter: Michelle's attorneys told the judges she was present
during the murder, thus largely establishing her guilt.
In June 2005, Lisa Michelle Lambert's final appeal
was turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court. She's in prison for good,
and the legal circus that has pained the Lambert and Show familiesand
Lancaster Countyis really over.
Lisa Michelle Lambert's trial highlighted a
potential failure in our justice system, but Laurie Show's death
helped lead Pennsylvania to enact anti-stalking laws.