Here's how Villa puts it.
"Unless he is stopped, DA Jim Martin will continue to fix DUI homicide cases for pals.
"He must be stopped.
"Ditto any institution that is enabling him."
Since The Morning Call is one of those institutions, at least in Villa's eyes, it must be stopped, too. "The Morning Call has been protecting DA Jim Martin for many years." Blogger Chris Casey quickly agreed. "There is a reluctance on the part of management at the Morning Call to investigate anything that might shine poorly on the office of District attorney Jim Martin. . . . [T]hey don't wish to endanger their working relationship."
As for me, I never bought into the conspiracy theory. I was certainly willing to listen, but nothing I heard was all that persuasive.
Today, I went into The Morning Call archives to see exactly how that newspaper brushed this story under the rug. Instead of finding evidence of a conspiracy, I found eight detailed news accounts*, thoroughly covering all of Villa's contentions. Four of these stories were "buried" on the front page as the lead story.
Morning Call Presents Sensitive and Sympathetic Portrayal of Young Dancer
I mentioned and quoted from one of these accounts yesterday. It was a sensitive portrayal of a vibrant young lady whose life was needlessly cut short. But it did not stop there. On June 26, 2006, in a page A-1 story, Sheena Villa was described in glowing terms again.
"Her father described her as 'a charismatic little starlet' and an idol to many of her young students at Miss Tanya's Expression of Dance school in Lower Nazareth Township, where she taught ballet and choreographed routines for dance competitions for six years.
"Steps in Time, a ballet school in Allentown that Villa attended as a child, and Miss Tanya's plan to award scholarships in her honor."
When Villa decided to put on a musical tribute to his daughter, The Morning Call obliged with a story (7/27/06, p. E-18).
"The two-hour show, which Villa estimates could raise between $10,000 and $15,000, also will be a tribute to Villa's daughter, Sheena Marie, a popular dance instructor who died in a car crash last March while out celebrating her 25th birthday. Daddy Licks' 'I Got Wheels' EP mentions her name on the record sleeve -- she was 6 months old at the time it was released.
"'She always loved the fact that Daddy Licks' EP was dedicated to her, and that she was named after a Ramones song,' says Villa. 'That made her a very cool chick.'"
The Morning Call ran yet another story (3/18/07, p. B-3) to promote "Dancers With a Cause," a ten-hour dance-athon for the Sheena Villa Scholarship Fund.
Finally, in its front page story about LaBarre's guilty plea (2/3/07), The Morning Call makes it very clear that Sheena Villa had pleaded with LaBarre to slow down.
The Morning Call Scrutinizes All Prosecutorial Decisions
In addition to showing more sympathy for Sheena, the paper covered every prosecutorial decision that DA Jim Martin made.
1. Why did it take ten weeks to file charges? "At a news conference, Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin said it's not unusual to work on a homicide-by-vehicle case for more than two months. Witnesses were interviewed, the accident was reconstructed, and the autopsy report was just completed two weeks ago while Martin was on vacation, he said."
6/2/06, page A-1.
2. Why did the DA fail to charge third degree murder? According to a front page story on 2/3/07, Judge Steinberg himself told Villa those charges are rare. "Steinberg said the charge is rare in traffic fatalities and cited two state cases, the most recent more than 12 years old.
"To show third-degree murder, prosecutors must prove the driver acted maliciously. Under the definition of homicide by vehicle while driving drunk, the driver does not intentionally set out to kill a person.
"While some counties have charged third-degree murder in traffic cases, it hasn't happened in Lehigh County in at least 30 years, District Attorney James Martin said. He said the appropriate charges were filed in the LaBarre case."
3. Did the DA try to hide evidence that Sheena was pregnant? In a front page story on 4/28/07, it is clear that it was thoroughly discussed and disclosed. "District Attorney James Martin said charges against LaBarre were initially delayed because prosecutors had to review the state's Crimes Against the Unborn Child Act. Citing case law, he said an additional count of homicide by vehicle while driving drunk could not have been charged for the fetus, which he said pathologists determined was at most 3 weeks old.
"[Ass't DA] Director said he prepared a legal memo and asked the judge to consider the fact Sheena was pregnant in sentencing."
All in all, it is very apparent that The Morning Call was unusually sympathetic to what happened to Sheena Villa. It also covered the tough questions that need to be asked in prosecutions of this sort.
Bill Villa's Downward Spiral
The news accounts tell another story, too. They reveal that Bill Villa, distraught father, became increasingly obsessed with the case as time went on. On June 2, 2006, the paper reports that "Villa slowly became consumed with the investigation. 'I was compelled to do it and a bit obsessed. The first two weeks after Sheena died, I was in a fog. After that two-week period, I started getting obsessed with seeing Sheena get justice.'
"He questioned prosecutors, Allentown police officers and detectives, and almost anyone who would listen or offer information about the accident."
That obsession intensified. When LaBarre's preliminary hearing was waived, Villa had convinced himself that LaBarre should spend 17 years behind bars. "We'd like to see none of that time plea-bargained away. We want to see him do every second of it."
By the time LaBarre entered his guilty plea, Villa's life was in ruins. "He said he's lost clients from the advertising business he runs out of his home, he feels as though he's aged 10 years and sees a therapist to cope with his grief. 'I feel new aches and pains every day, he said. My joints hurt, my head hurts.'"
After LaBarre entered his plea and was escorted away by deputies, Villa mockingly wished him a Happy Birthday. LaBarre had just turned 28.
At LaBarre's sentencing, Villa had finally crossed the line, deluding himself into thinking that "LaBarre received preferential treatment because his father is an attorney." He continued to question the way the case was handled. Eventually, Judge Steinberg had to stop him.
Unfortunately for Villa's mental health, his obsession has continued. His enemies' list has grown.
I'm on it now.
His troll-like behavior is a product of that obsession. What is even more disturbing is that an exasperated Villa is now engaging in threatening behavior, hurting himself.
I have all the sympathy I can have for his loss. That's why I spoke out for him and even helped him meet with a district attorney. But I won't drink his kool-aid, and I have no sympathy for the way he has threatened other people or for bloggers like Chris Casey, who use him.
Bill Villa would prefer that you not read this.
But it's the truth.
He needs help.
Blogger's Note: * Stories were published on 3/26/06, p. B-3; 3/27/06, p. A-1; 6/2/06, p. A-1; 7/21/06, p. B-3; 7/27/06, p. E-18; 2/3/07, p. A-1; 3/18/07, p. B-3; and 4/18/07, p. A-1. Because they are archived, I am unable to link to them.