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Ernest R. WHOLAVER Jr.





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Charged with sexually molesting his two daughters - Retaliation
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: December 24, 2002
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: 1960
Victims profile: His estranged wife, Jean, 43, and his daughters, Victoria, 20, and Elizabeth, 15
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Middletown, Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on August 31, 2004

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania




As background, in July 2002 Ernest R. Wholaver, Jr. was charged with multiple sexual offenses for alleged conduct involving his two daughters, Victoria and Elizabeth, the latter of whom was still a minor at the time the charges were lodged.

On behalf of Elizabeth, Wholaver’s wife, Jean Wholaver, obtained an order under the Protection From Abuse Act which included provisos that Wholaver was evicted from the family’s Middletown residence, with no right or privilege of entry, and was prohibited from possessing or acquiring firearms.

Wholaver subsequently took up residence with his mother, father, and younger brother, Scott Wholaver, in Cambria County.

Just after midnight on December 24, 2002, Wholaver set out for the Middletown residence with Scott Wholaver.

While his brother waited in the vehicle about a block away, Wholaver approached the house; cut telephone and other wires leading to it; forcibly gained entry; and shot Jean, Victoria, and Elizabeth to death with a pistol, leaving Victoria’s nine-month-old girl, Madison, alive but alone and unattended.

Wholaver and his brother then drove to Clearfield County, where Wholaver discarded the pistol, a shotgun, and other potentially incriminating items at a remote location.

Following the discovery of the bodies and Madison (who survived) approximately twenty-eight hours after the killings, police obtained search warrants for the Middletown residence to gather evidence. They later executed warrants to search Wholaver’s person, his vehicle, and the Cambria County home where he was living.

Wholaver was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder, and the Commonwealth furnished notice that it intended to pursue imposition of the death penalty.

Prior to trial, Scott Wholaver pled guilty to third-degree murder and agreed to cooperate as a Commonwealth witness. He led police to the Clearfield County location, from where they retrieved the firearms and other evidence. Also before trial, the prior sexual offense charges were consolidated with the murder cases. Wholaver secured a change of venire, in light of pre-trial publicity.

At trial, the Commonwealth presented Scott Wholaver as a central witness. He testified that, following Jean Wholaver’s decision to seek a divorce, Wholaver stated that he would shoot her.

He then described the brothers’ nocturnal trip to the Middletown residence on December 24th, indicating that Wholaver had claimed that he wished only to retrieve his dog. The trip involved furtive activities and was corroborated by a surveillance video obtained by police from a convenience store located mid-way between Cambria County and Middletown.

Scott Wholaver testified that, upon arrival in Middletown, he was told to stop the vehicle to permit Wholaver to access the rear seat; Wholaver then directed him to proceed to a location about a block from the Wholaver residence; he parked the vehicle there and waited as Wholaver proceeded toward the residence; Wholaver returned five to ten minutes later appearing shaken; Wholaver instructed him to drive to the remote Clearfield County location where he saw the shotgun in the rear of the vehicle and watched Wholaver shuttle from the vehicle to the woods; and Wholaver told him to repeat a false story if asked about his whereabouts during the time period spanning these activities.

The Commonwealth also offered testimony from several prisoner-witnesses, who described various incriminatory statements by Wholaver, as well as evidence of Wholaver’s jail-based efforts to hire a West Virginia man to kill the father of Victoria’s child, Francisco Ramos, and to fabricate evidence suggesting that Mr. Ramos had killed Jean, Victoria, and Elizabeth Wholaver.

A prisoner-witness involved police at an early stage in these efforts, and undercover officers documented Wholaver’s subsequent solicitation attempts. This conduct was acknowledged by the defense in closing argument, where Wholaver’s trial counsel suggested that the attempt reflected only an effort by a distraught husband and father to avenge the killing of his family against the man that he believed was the perpetrator.

Parenthetically, the defense theory of the case recognized that Mr. Ramos was not the killer but asserted that another man, who had also been intimately associated with Victoria, had perpetrated the murders.

Ballistics evidence was presented to connect the pistol found in Clearfield County to the killings (although the association could not be made firmly, because both the firearm and bullets were degraded). Further, the Commonwealth presented evidence that the pistol was registered to Wholaver’s uncle.

The Commonwealth also introduced the preliminary hearing testimony of Elizabeth and Victoria Wholaver from the sexual assault case under the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing exception to the hearsay rule, on the theory that they were killed to prevent their testimony.

Wholaver was convicted of first-degree murder pertaining to each of the killings, and of the separate crimes of killing prosecution witnesses, conspiracy, reckless endangerment (of Madison), burglary, and criminal solicitation related to his attempt to have Mr. Ramos killed. He was acquitted of the sexual offenses, however.

In the penalty phase of the trial, the Commonwealth pursued the in-perpetration-of-a-felony, grave-risk, multiple-murders, and protection-from-abuse-violation aggravators, incorporating the evidence adduced in the guilt phase. Wholaver pursued the no-significant-history-of-prior-criminal-convictions and catch-all mitigators.

The jury found all of the aggravators, at least some of the jurors accepted Wholaver’s proffered mitigators, and the jurors unanimously returned three death sentences as a consequence of their individual weighing determinations.


Execution set for man in his family’s murder

The Tribune-Democrat

April 25, 2007

The execution of a triple murderer from northern Cambria County has been scheduled for June 20 after Gov. Ed Rendell on Wednesday signed a warrant for the execution by lethal injection.

Ernest R. Wholaver Jr., 47, of St. Benedict was convicted of three first-degree murders in the shootings of his wife and their two daughters. The murders took place at his wife’s home in Middletown, outside Harrisburg. Their bodies were found on Christmas Day 2002.

He was sentenced to death on Aug. 31, 2004. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed Wholaver’s sentence on Aug. 22. His petition to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a review was denied Jan. 16.

Wholaver – the former owner of a Cambria County trucking company – had returned to Cambria from suburban Harrisburg months before the murders, as his marriage was breaking up.

He murdered his estranged wife, Jean, 43, and his daughters, Victoria, 20, and Elizabeth, 15, on Christmas Eve 2002. Police said he killed his family in retaliation after child molestation charges were filed against him. The victims were found after they failed to show up for Christmas Eve dinner at the home of Jean’s mother in Johnstown.

Victoria’s 9-month-old daughter was found crying but unhurt next to her mom’s body.

Wholaver is an inmate at SCI-Greene.

At trial, the Dauphin County district attorney’s office showed that Wholaver and his brother – Scott Wholaver, also of St. Benedict – had time to drive from a Cambria bar to Middletown and commit the killings. Scott Wholaver was sentenced to 12 to 25 years in prison for driving his brother to the crime scene.


Father and husband now charged in murdering family

DAUPHIN CO. - A father charged with sexually molesting his two daughters has now also been harged with the Christmas Eve murders of the two young women and their mother.

42 year old Ernest Wholaver Jr. was charged Tuesday with killing his estranged wife, 43 year old Jean Wholaver, and their daughters, 20 year old Victoria and 15 year old Elizabeth, after breaking into their Middletown home as his brother, Scott Wholaver, waited in a car.

The victims were found Christmas morning, each had suffered a single gunshot wound to the head from a .22-caliber weapon. Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr. said Tuesday morning that he will not decide whether or not to pursue the death penalty until Wholaver's arraignment.

However, he said that various circumstances exist under which he could pursue the death penalty, including the killing of a witness in a court case, Marsico said. "Killing three people in an attempt to subvert the criminal justice system is a horrendous act and one that calls for severe punishment"

Wholaver had been free on $100,000 bail pending trial on charges that he sexually molested his daughters. His bail was revoked and he was arrested January 2 because authorities were concerned that he would attempt to flee before the upcoming sexual assault trial.

His 28 year old brother, Scott, was charged January 3 with three counts of homicide as an accomplice. He remains in the Dauphin County Prison, being held without bail.

Authorities have charged Ernest Wholaver with three counts murder, which means prosecutors must prove he acted with malice and forethought, rather than a blanket charge of criminal homicide, which includes several degrees of murder and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

He also is charged with burglary, reckless endangerment and related counts. The endangerment charge is related to Victoria Wholaver's 9-month-old daughter Madison, who police found unharmed near her mother's body.

The charges against Wholaver were filed based upon a recommendation by the investigating grand jury, which heard testimony last week.

"Up until now, the investigation of this case has taken place in secret, with sealed warrants, secret testimony and behind closed doors," Wholaver's attorney, Spero T. Lappas, said Monday. "The filing of these charges entitles Mr. Wholaver to a speedy public trial, and we anxiously await the opportunity to defend this case in open court."

According to the grand jury documents, called a presentment, Scott Wholaver first told police he and his brother were looking for deer in Cambria County at the time the homicides occurred but later told police he drove his brother halfway across the state to the Middletown home of his wife and daughters.

According to the presentment, Scott Wholaver said they were drinking early on December 24 at a Cambria County bar when his brother said he wanted to go to his former home to get his dog.

Under the conditions of his bail release in the sexual assault case, Ernest Wholaver had been barred since July from visiting the home or contacting his family.

The presentment states that Scott Wholaver said he parked a block away from the home around 4 a.m. on Dec. 24 and watched his brother walk toward it, returning 10 minutes later "in an agitated state" and telling his brother to drive away.

"Scott Wholaver also indicated that on a prior occasion, Ernest Wholaver had indicated that he would kill Jean Wholaver, Victoria Wholaver and Elizabeth Wholaver," the grand jury presentment states.

The presentment also states that an uncle of the brothers said they did not come home on the night of the killings and that a .22-caliber revolver was seized during a search of the home of Ernest Wholaver Sr. in Cambria County, where Ernest Wholaver Jr. was living since the sexual assault charges were filed against him.

Marsico said that ballistics tests have not determined whether the .22-caliber revolver seized in the search was the murder weapon.

According to the presentment, police found a broken garage window at the Wholaver home, through which the garage door could be opened and an intruder could get inside the house.


Ernest R. Wholaver Jr.



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