Thursday, June 22, 2000

Man pleads guilty in slaying, attempted rape

By Amy Beth Graves
The Associated Press

        NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — A man pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing a teen-ager and trying to rape her friend after they accepted his offer of $20 to give him a ride home from a shopping mall.

        Elizabeth Reiser's parents wept as they watched Matthew Vaca, 27, admit to killing their 17-year-old daughter. Mr. Vaca also pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and attempted rape of Brandi Hicks, 18.

        Appearing before Judge Elizabeth LeHigh Thomakos, Mr. Vaca was mostly quiet, responding only, “Yes, I do,” when asked if he understood all of the charges and possible penalties.

        Prosecutors said Mr. Vaca pleaded guilty to avoid a trial that would further traumatize the victims' families.

        “This has been his decision from the start,” Sheila Davis said before her son's arraignment, where she wept quietly and was hugged by Elizabeth's parents.

        Tuscarawas County Prosecutor Amanda Spies Bornhorst said she plans to ask for the maximum prison sentences on each count, which means Mr. Vaca could spend the rest of his life in prison. He is to be sentenced June 30 in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court.

        Ms. Bornhorst said she decided against asking for the death penalty after consulting with the victims' families.

        Mr. Vaca, of New Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to all charges in an 11-count indictment that includes aggravated murder, kidnapping and rape. Ohio law allowed the rape charge, even though authorities said Mr. Vaca was unsuccessful in raping Ms. Hicks.

        Authorities said Mr. Vaca told them his original motive was to rob the teens when he offered them $20 for a ride home May 23 from New Towne Mall in New Philadelphia, about 70 miles south of Cleveland.

        He said he forced them to drive to a nearby hayfield, where Elizabeth, of Dover, was stabbed to death. He tied Ms. Hicks to the car's steering wheel, tried to strangle her and then threw her off a 15-foot railroad bridge, authorities said.

        “I knew it was bad news as soon as I told him to get out of the car and he said "Well, I've got a gun.' I didn't think he was actually going to kill us,” Ms. Hicks said after the arraignment.

        She said she has been trying to forgive Mr. Vaca. “I know I should. I'm trying really hard but right at this moment, I can't,” Mr. Hicks told reporters at a news conference.

        Mr. Hicks' mother, Kim Kline, said the last few weeks have been difficult for the family.

        “It's been a horrible ordeal. I'm so thankful that Brandi was able to give a description (of Mr. Vaca) and he was brought to justice, but it will never go away,” she said.

        Ms. Hicks said her immediate goal is to “get on with the rest of my life.”


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