Men charged in 1975 murder of North Webster teen appear in court
ALBION, Ind. (AP/WNDU) — A judge told two Indiana men Wednesday that they could face life in prison if they’re convicted in the slaying of a 17-year-old girl from North Webster who was found dead in a river nearly a half-century ago.
Fred Bandy Jr., 67, of Goshen and John Wayne Lehman, 67, of Auburn were arrested Monday on one count each of murder in Laurel Jean Mitchell’s August 1975 death, Indiana State Police said Tuesday.
Noble County Circuit Court Judge Michael Kramer told Bandy and Lehman during their separate initial hearings Wednesday that they face a charge of murder in the first degree, which was how murder was defined in Indiana at the time of Mitchell’s killing, The (Kendallville) News Sun reported.
Under current Indiana law, a murder conviction carries a sentencing range of 45 to 65 years in prison, with the advisory sentence being 55 years. But because Mitchell’s death occurred in 1975, Kramer said that if they’re convicted of first-degree murder both men could be sentenced to life in prison, which was the maximum potential prison sentence in 1975.
The judge also told Bandy and Lehman, who remain jailed without bond, that public defenders would be appointed to represent them.
In court on Wednesday, both men pleaded not guilty to murder.
Mitchell was found drowned in the Elkhart River in Noble County on Aug. 7, 1975, the morning after she failed to return home from her job at a church camp in her hometown of North Webster.
A probable cause affidavit filed Tuesday states that witnesses tied the men to Mitchell’s killing and DNA evidence linked Bandy to the crime.
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.