Brother of woman murdered in 1996 wants to appeal reduced sentencing for one of two men convicted

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – The brother of a woman kidnapped and murdered in 1996 wants to appeal reduced sentencing for one of the men convicted in connection with her death.

Jason Wentz was convicted of felony murder, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, residential entry, and two counts of auto theft in connection with the death of Donna Heseman.

On July 26, 1996, Jason Wentz and Joseph Henson abducted Heseman as she walked through her work parking lot at the Bristol-Myers facility, according to court documents.

Henson shot and killed Heseman, and a manhunt for Henson and Wentz ensued. The two were eventually apprehended when they crashed a stolen truck into a sheriff’s car, court records show.

“They’re going to literally let him out 15 years early for the sentence that the court system that would be the judge, the defense, the prosecution, the witnesses, the jury, all concluded that Jason Wentz was guilty of the crimes,” says Smith.

In his letter, smith writes that Wentz and Henson were together during the kidnapping, and the family was told by then prosecutor Stan Levco that Wentz should have to serve at least half his sentence.

“You can never be certain what an appellate court is going to do,” Levco says. “I certainly don’t find that justice has been served perfectly in this case, but you can’t account what a court of appeals is going to change.”

“My mother and father were guaranteed the daughter of Donna, Raven, was guaranteed, he would serve 50% of his sentence. But these judges vacated one of the main felonies so he could reduce this,” Smith adds.

According to the Department of Corrections’ website, the earliest possible release date for Jason Wentz is March 20, 2020. Joseph Henson’s earliest possible release date is February 11, 2049.

Heseman’s brother, Michael Smith, disagrees with reduced sentencing for Wentz.

Smith said the release is 15 years early and that Wentz will have served one-third of his life for taking 100% of his sister’s life.

He sent the following letter to the Indiana Supreme Court in Indianapolis and to Vanderburgh County Prosecuting Attorney Nick Hermann:

October 3, 2019
Jason Wentz v State of Indiana
Case: 82C01-9607-CF-00718
Response to Appeal and on petition for postconviction relief

First let me notify that I am a brother of Donna Heseman
(…)
I am stating my disagreement with the reduced sentencing of Jason Wentz.
The following, I hope will be complete in explaining the need and acceptance of reinstating the full sentencing for the actions on the date of July 26, 1996 based on the appeal by the following Attorneys:

Attorney for Appellant
Marshall Pinkus
Indianapolis, Indiana
Attorney for Appellee
Steve Carter
Attorney General of Indiana
Timothy W. Beam
Deputy Attorney General
Indianapolis, Indiana

Appeal from the Vanderburgh Circuit Court
The Honorable Richard Young, Judge
The Honorable Carl A. Heldt, Judge
Case No. 82C01-9607-CF-00718

The reduction of the sentencing of Jason Wentz has been explained within the attached files.

The actions by Jason Wentz determined the verdict of guilty of several offenses on July 26, 1996.

It started with the kidnapping of Donna Heseman in the parking lot of Bristol Myers. Then the murder of Donna Heseman

Jason Wentz and his accompanying party, Joseph Henson continued the crimes of burglary, robbery, residential entry, auto thefts and the injury of a Vanderburgh Sherriff by use of a stolen vehicle.

It cannot be determined as to the state of mind of either Jason Wentz or Joseph Henson. Since there is no human way possible for this to be concluded. It can only be theorized by the way each said they were thinking during the spree that lasted for several hours. This is an important point since it has been used as one reason to reduce the sentence.

Jason Wentz was tried in Vanderburgh Superior court and found guilty on all counts. These counts include, Kidnapping, murder, burglary, robbery, residential entry, auto thefts. Each offense was addressed in court. Sentencing was Seventy-nine & one-half years imprisonment.

Since both members of the crime of kidnapping were in the car that drove up to Donna Heseman when she got out of her car, they both were involved in the execution of the crime. It was Jason Wentz’s shotgun that was used to force Donna back to her car. It was Jason Wentz car that was used to get to the place that Donna Heseman was kidnapped and it was Jason Wentz that following Donna Heseman once they forced her back into her car.

Before sentencing, it was stated to each member of Donna Heseman’s family that each party would be required to serve a minimum of ½ of their sentence before being eligible for parole. This was stated by Lead Prosecutor Stan Levco to all members of Donna Heseman’s family. Also, that the sentencing for each crime would be served consecutively.

Justice Boehm ruled that the Kidnapping charge against Jason Wentz should be vacated.

Justice Boehm also believes that the sentencing of consecutive sentencing is to be changed to concurrent sentencings.

This is in direct conflict with what was determined at sentencing, by the word of the Prosecutors Office, Stan Levco and other members of the Prosecutors office and the jury.

In the appeal, Jason Wentz alleges he was unaware that any of the crimes were going to happen. Again, there is no human way to know what Jason Wentz and Joseph Henson discussed when driving up to Donna Heseman. This statement should not be used as defense stating he was unaware. What is the truth? Jason Wentz and Joseph Henson were together when they kidnapped Donna Heseman. That is a fact.

Further, it was stated in the appeal that the trial Judge acted improper by potentially placing Wentz at the scene. There was no doubt that he was at the scene and all evidence at trial place Wentz at the scene. For all the crimes. This evidence alone is reason to dismiss the claim by Wentz and the defense of Wentz for the murder and Kidnapping charges.

Wentz states through his defense that he was not given the right to face his accusers. He was in Court during every testimony which surely places him to face his accusers. He states that only two strikes from the jury were used out of ten. But he and Jack Davis were satisfied with this selection had he been found innocent.

After sentencing, the court called the parties back for a second sentencing hearing informing that a mistake had been made as to the consecutive sentences for felony murder and kidnapping. Then determined that the sentencing for the other charges; burglary, robbery, residential entry and 2 auto theft to run consecutive to the felony Murder and Kidnapping counts and consecutive to each other. Resentenced to Seventy-nine and one-half years. Wentz argued that this imposition for consecutive sentences was also inappropriate. The Judges in this matter agreed.

If that is the case, then the conviction for murder was sentenced to 55 years and the conviction for Kidnapping sentenced to 30 years. To run Consecutively. That is 85 years.

It seems that this appeal in the sentencing is based on the vacating the kidnapping conviction as a portion of the sentence. Although there is no explanation as to the decision to vacate the Kidnapping conviction and sentencing, the Appeals panel of Judges concur. (Page 9)

The very sentencing that the Vanderburgh Superior Court handing down and amending during the sentencing stage of the trial.

It is Justice Boehm that states that the kidnapping charge be vacated in the appeal papers. (page 9) This decision seems to be based on the statement by Jason Wentz that said he was unaware that the kidnapping was going to happen. This is posted in the appeal paper. (page 3) As stated earlier, it was Jason Wentz’s shotgun that was used, it was Jason Wentz in the car that approached Donna Heseman as she was heading to her job and it was Jason Wentz that participating in all subsequent crimes that day. To vacate the kidnapping is the reasoning to validate the deduction of the sentencing. However, there is no evidence that Jason Wentz was not involved in the kidnapping. Only the panel that vacates the sentencing for reasons unstated.

As to the emotional gravity of this appeal and the acts by Jason Wentz: I can only hope the following carries enough merit to reconsider the current decisions of the Indiana Appeals Court.

1) The Murder of my sister changed the lives of an entire family. A grief that has never relinquished. That is for the Parents until their deaths, brothers and sisters, cousins, Aunts and Uncles, friends and mostly her 9-year-old daughter that lost her mother to this kidnapping and murder by Jason Wentz.

2) On or about December 21, 2014, Robin Masterson, Vanderburgh County Court called me as well as other members of Donna Heseman’s family. She ask how I would feel if Jason Wentz were to be release early. She told me that he had received educational degrees while incarcerated. I replied that if Jason Wentz, his Attorney or any members of the Court could bring Donna back for her Daughter, I would be good with that. Telling her that we all know that will not happen, so my answer was I was totally against it. And finished by saying the Court promised the sentencing and that he would not be eligible for parole for 39 years.

3) I have met no one that feels the need for an early release; not business peers, not family, not friends and recently not members of a local news station that is following this decision.

4) Nowhere in the appeals paper is the current Prosecutor listed; Nick Hermann. It seems that no one litigated in behave of Donna Heseman to uphold the sentencing. This may not be the case but no one from the Prosecutors office has reached out to myself or any other member of Donna’s family on this sentencing appeal.

5) I have made two calls to Robin Masterson’s office in this last month without a return call from her. I am sure I called the correct number since the voice mail answered with the recording: (This is Robin Masterson’s office….) 812 435-5150. My brother in Virginia Beach has called two times as well with no return call.

6) If Jason Wentz is released this November 27, he will have served 23 years of his sentence. If one uses an average lifespan of an American male, that is somewhere between 72-75 years. That means Jason Wentz served a sentence of 1/3 of his life for taking 100% of Donna’s Life. He will have most of his best years ahead being he will be only 40 years of age when release on 2019

7) Donna’s Daughter, Raven lost her mother at 9 years of age. She needed her mother to show her how to be a little girl. How to be a teenage girl. For Raven to have a mother that she could go to in times of need, times of happiness and times of sadness. Jason took that away and so much more. The rest would be for Raven to tell.

8) November 27, the day selected for Jason’s release is the Birthday of Donna Heseman’s Father.

9) An appeal to a sentencing by a US Court is by the very nature, a plea for consideration for reduction or dismissal of the sentence handing down by the jury of peers for unlawful actions by an individual, the defendant. It is only post-conviction and sentencing that the appeal proceeds. It is the trial and sentencing by the Court and jury that is to impose justice for the victims. These sentencings are done under the guidelines of the law. It is only when appeals are filed that a panel of Judges convene to decide exceptions to the sentencing without witnessing the full extent of the evidence that is submitted during a trial. Jason Wentz was at the Kidnapping and as such should be held guilty of kidnapping.

10) Nowhere in the Appeals report does Jason Wentz show any remorse for his actions that day. If the response to this is that it is a legal appeal and not an emotional decision, then his statements about not being aware of what was happening could be emotional as well.
I hope that what has been put down on these 4 pages will cause someone to reconsider the decisions that are about to be allowed by the Court of Appeals. Law is based on interpretation and this is no different. There have been different interpretations by the Prosecutor and the appeals. As the brother of Donna Heseman, I believe there is no other decision that serves our social justice than for Jason Wentz to serve his sentence without early release.

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(This story was originally published on Nov. 18, 2019)

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