Chesterton Tribune

Brutal death of Sheri Jania unlikely to bring murder charge

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Of the four charges filed against James Lohman III—the man accused of dragging Shift Change Tap bartender Sheri Jania to her death on Saturday—the most serious is this one: leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury or death while operating while intoxicated, a Class B felony punishable by a term of six to 20 years.

Porter County Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel told the Chesterton Tribune today that—given the Burns Harbor Police Department’s account of the incident as reported in the probable cause affidavit—neither a murder charge nor a voluntary manslaughter charge is applicable in this case.

Murder is punishable by a term of 30 to 60 years; voluntary manslaughter, when committed with a deadly weapon, a Class A felony punishable by a term of 20 to 50 years.

The legal test for murder is “knowingly or intentionally” killing a person, Gensel said, and proving in court what Lohman knew he was doing or intended to do while behind the wheel—as police in the probable cause affidavit said Lohman was —would be very difficult.

The legal test for voluntary manslaughter, on the other hand, is “acting under sudden heat,” Gensel said. “You find your wife in bed with another man and kill him, that’s the classic case of sudden heat.”

In order to prove sudden heat, however, the state has to establish the presence in the accused of a “severe” provocation or duress, Gensel said, “and in this case there is no evidence that sudden heat played into what happened.”

“The case is still under investigation, though,” Gensel added.

Autopsy Findings

Meanwhile, Coroner Chuck Harris reported the results today of an autopsy conducted late on Wednesday in Mishawaka by Dr. Joseph Prahlow.

Cause of death: “multiple severe injuries,” Harris told the Chesterton Tribune, primarily to the front of Jania’s body but also to the back and the head.

The most chilling finding, however, is this one: forensic pathologist Prahlow’s opinion that Jania did not die immediately after being struck by the vehicle which police say Lohman was driving when he fled the Shift Change, and that she was not rendered immediately unconscious by the initial impact, Harris said.

“I was honestly hoping I could tell you that (Jania) was unconscious” after being hit by the car, Harris said. “But I can’t. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. It was a slow death. It was pretty much like torture.”

The driver, Harris added, “absolutely had to know” that Jania had been caught under the car’s undercarriage and was being dragged beneath it.

The suspect vehicle—a 1997 Mercury Cougar two-door—has been taken into custody and processed for evidence, Harris said.

The Incident

According to the BHPD, Jania—a bartender at the Shift Change off duty on Saturday—asked Lohman to leave the bar around 4 p.m. because one of his two companions was a 14-year-old boy. Jania then followed the three into the parking lot and tried to prevent them from leaving, after learning that they had reportedly been involved in a disturbance earlier in the afternoon at a Burns Harbor home, police said.

Jania at first took a position behind Lohman’s car to get his license plate number, police said, but was forced to move to a position to the front and left of it after Lohman put the Cougar in reverse. At that point, police said, Lohman “put the car into drive,” “cut the wheel sharply to the left,” “then floored it and . . . ran Jania over.”

“The “car stopped for about 10 to 15 seconds and someone opened the door,” police said, but even as “everyone at the scene was screaming that Jania was under the car,” the driver fled the parking lot, “vehicle floored with spinning tires.”

Lohman advised after being taken into custody that his front-seat passenger was to blame, that the passenger “put his leg over to the driver’s side and placed his foot over Lohman’s foot and pushed on the gas pedal, (causing) him to run over the girl,” police said.

Gensel told the Tribune on Wednesday that no charges have been filed against Lohman’s front-seat passenger nor are any currently being contemplated.



Posted 9/8/2011