Guest Author - Donna Johnson
Twelve-year-old Shanda Sharer left her father Steve’s Jeffersonville, IN home just after midnight on January 11, 1992. The next few hours would be the last of her life, during which she was beaten, tortured, and finally burned alive by four teenage girls just slightly older than her.
Shanda’s father noticed she was missing after he got up for the day. He called Shanda’s mother Jacque Vaught, other family members and friends. When everyone Steve contacted reported that they had not seen Shanda that day, he and Jacque filed a missing person report with Jeffersonville police in the early afternoon.
Later that night, a teenage girl and her parents went to the police in Jefferson County, IN, the county just northeast of Jeffersonville’s Clark County. The girl was 15-year-old Toni Lawrence, one of the four girls involved in Shanda’s abduction and murder. Lawrence was reportedly hysterical, but managed to tell the story of what had happened to the girl she knew only as “Shanda.“ Police were able to match her description of the murdered girl with the description given in the missing person report filed by Shanda’s parents.
Based on the information given by Lawrence, police arrested her. Also arrested were Melinda Loveless, age 16; Laurie Tackett, age 17; and Hope Rippey, age 15, the other three girls present during the crimes. Due to the severity of the charges against them, all four girls were set to be tried in adult court rather than the juvenile system.
The evidence against the girls included not only Lawrence’s statement to police, but also the autopsy performed on Shanda by Kentucky’s Medical Examiner Dr. George Nichols. The autopsy found that Shanda sustained several serious injuries during her beating and torture, including anal injuries apparently caused by the insertion of a blunt object, possibly the tire iron with which she was also beaten. This particular injury was so severe that it would have required Shanda to use a colostomy bag for some time, but like her other injuries, she could have recovered. The official cause of death was third- and fourth- degree burns and smoke inhalation.
Before the girls could stand trial for Shanda’s death, each made a plea bargain with the State. Lawrence was the first to cut a deal, in exchange for testifying against the others should they go to trial. She pleaded guilty to criminal confinement and was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Loveless and Tackett were the next to accept plea deals, pleading guilty to murder, arson, torture, and criminal confinement in exchange for prison sentences of up to 60 years each. Rippey, the lone holdout, did not make a plea deal until the following year, when she finally pleaded guilty to murder and criminal confinement. Rippey was sentenced to 60 years in prison, with 10 years suspended due to mitigating circumstances. This sentence was reduced to 35 years in 2004.
Each girl admitted to varying levels of responsibility in Shanda’s abduction, torture, and murder. Lawrence claimed to have not taken part at all, aside from the initial visit to Shanda’s home and conversation with her. Rippey claimed to only have poured gas on Shanda’s body after she was already on fire. None of the four girls ever admitted to sodomizing Shanda with the tire iron or any other object.
Indiana law allows inmates to receive one day off their sentence for every day of good behavior behind bars. Through this program, Lawrence was released in 2000, then was on parole for two years. Rippey also received an early release, in 2006. As of 2010, Loveless and Tackett remain incarcerated, despite attempts by attorneys to obtain a sentence reduction for Loveless because she did not understand the terms of her plea deal. Loveless will remain in prison until at least 2020; Tackett until at least 2021.
Steve Sharer died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 52. Jacque Vaught has been in the news for opposing Loveless’s bid for early release. Since Shanda’s death, a memorial has been erected at the spot on Lemon Road where she died, various memorial services have been held, and a scholarship fund has been established in her name.