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Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Court Denies Appeal for Ocean City Killer

 

By Joe Hart

COURT HOUSE — A 29-year-old Ocean City woman, who is serving time in state prison for strangling her girlfriend, dismembering the corpse and scattering the parts, lost a recent appeal challenging her sentence.
Dorothy Haines — formerly of Central Avenue here and now a resident of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, Hunterdon County — was arrested for the murder of Suzanne Stiehl following the Dec. 20, 2002 discovery of a severed hand and foot in a garbage bag in an Atlantic City alley.
Haines pled guilty in July 2003 to aggravated manslaughter and hindering apprehension. She was sentenced on Sept. 26, 2003 to consecutive terms of 27 years on the manslaughter charge and five years for hindering.
Haines had a history of juvenile assault and criminal behavior including prostitution, assault, reckless endangerment and retail theft. She was on probation at the time of the slaying. The defendant also had a history of alcoholism as well as undisputed psychological and neurological conditions.
The trial court considered four aggravating factors to the crime and no mitigating factors, noting that in the plea agreement Haines waived “any intoxication, mental health and self-defense issues.”
In a 2006 appeal, Haines argued that her sentences were excessive. Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten reduced by a year Haines’ term for hindering apprehension, but left the manslaughter sentence alone.
According to court documents, Batten explained that he assigned “substantial” weight to the aggravating factors, but only “slight” weight to Haines’ psychological problems, which were addressed in the agreement to convict on manslaughter rather than murder.
Haines filed another appeal to the amended sentence that was argued on Nov. 12 this year and decided by Appellate Judges Stephen Skillman and Jane Grall on Dec. 1.
The court considered Haines’ objections to the weight assigned to the aggravating and mitigating factors. Haines argued that the trial record did not support a finding that her crimes were committed in a heinous, cruel or depraved manner.
The appeals judges, however, suggested that Haines’ own statement regarding the strangulation, dismemberment and scattering of the pieces supports the court’s claim.
The court cited a previous case (State v. Bey) that found “strangulation is an especially brutal means of killing because it requires the murderer to witness the victim’s gradual death throes.”
Skillman and Grall also noted that an aggravating factor was upheld in a case “remarkably similar” to this one.
In State v. Vasquez, an aggravating factor was determined and the first-time offender’s life sentence was upheld after he “strangled and stabbed a woman who had decided to leave him, dismembered the corpse and disposed of its parts in various locations.”
In the end, the appeals court affirmed Batten’s sentences.
According to the state Department of Corrections, Haines’ manslaughter charge holds a mandatory minimum term of 22 years, 11 months and five days. Barring any future appeals, her projected max release date is Nov. 25, 2025.
Contact Hart at (609) 886-8600 Ext 35 or at: jhart@cmcherald.com

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