The Murder of Laurie Show
Trial and Appeal
At first the process was quick and straightforward: the perpetrators went to trial in 1992. Tabitha was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to life. Lawrence initially was sentenced to just a year, arranging a plea bargain and testifying against his girlfriend and friend, insisting he'd merely dropped them off and headed to McDonald's. When prosecutors determined he'd committed perjury in the other trials, Lawrence was tried and found guilty of third-degree murder and sentenced to ten to 20 years.
Michelle waived her right to a trial by jury, and Common Pleas Judge Lawrence F. Stengel found her guilty. It took just seven days for prosecutors to show Stengel that Michelle and Tabitha killed Laurie, and that Butch drove them to and from the crime. He found Michelle guilty of first-degree murder. Because this was her first offense — and because she was by then the mother of a baby girl — Stengel spared her the death penalty, sentencing her to life in prison.
She began serving time in prison in Cambridge Springs, Pa., and finding it a very rough world indeed. She accused a prison guard of raping her between May 1993 and October 1994; and prison authorities punished her for this by sentencing her to solitary confinement rather than pursuing an investigation. When the guard was finally tried and convicted, Michelle was moved to a New Jersey prison (later authorities would transfer her to Massachusetts) to protect her from vengeance of the other guards, who she said had done nothing to stop the rapes. She also claimed another guard had assaulted her, and that some had videotaped her during a strip search. In 2007, after disagreements as to whether there was enough evidence for her ensuing lawsuit to proceed to trial, Pennsylvania would settle out of court, paying Michelle $35,000. The money would go to court costs and restitution owed, with anything leftover going to support her child.
Michelle's initial appeals were each rejected, but, in New Jersey in 1996, she sent a handwritten petition of appeal to a Federal court in Philadelphia. Very few such petitions get a hearing, but U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, then 54, thought the case deserved further review. He named the firm of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis to take the case. Christina Rainville, then 37, would be their litigator. The pugnacious Rainville would succeed in getting Dalzell to reevaluate every aspect of the trial. She recast Michelle as an abused and manipulated innocent; and she defined police and prosecutors as incompetent or biased in their roles.