Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Speed Freak Killers

Shermantine's Trial

Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr.
Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr.

During Shermantine's trial, which began on November 22, 2000, in Santa Clara—moved to that city because of the extensive publicity about the case throughout the San Joaquin Valley—prosecutors painted a picture of a coldblooded predator who had been on a rampage for fifteen years. On trial for the murder of Chevy Wheeler in 1985, Cyndi Vanderheiden of Clements in 1998, and Paul Cavanaugh and Howard King in 1984, Sherman, the single trial began against the wishes of Shermantine's lawyers, Doug Jacobsen and Deborah Fialkowski. The lawyers had argued that the cases involving male victims should be tried separately from the cases involving the female victims because, the charges against Shermantine in the deaths of King and Cavanaugh arose largely from the statements made by Herzog.

"There are no fingerprints, no eyewitnesses, no smoking gun," Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa said during his opening statement. "It's all in the details....Wes told several individuals that he had hunted the ultimate kill—humans."

Testa told the jury that it was believed that Shermantine may have killed as many as 20 other people during his lengthy rampage, and may have disposed of their bodies in mine shafts, remote hillsides or buried them beneath a trailer park. Over the years, Testa said, Shermantine had bragged to relatives and acquaintances that he had "made people disappear" from the outskirts of Stockton. He allegedly told one woman in a trailer park during a confrontation that she should "listen to the heartbeats of people I've buried here. Listen to the heartbeats of families I've buried here."

During the course of the trial, five women testified that Shermantine had sexually assaulted, them, including a babysitter whom he had attacked when she attempted to collect money that he owed her. A woman testified that her car had been rear-ended by Shermantine, who kidnapped her at knifepoint when she got out to exchange insurance information. She said that she jumped from his moving vehicle to escape. His estranged wife recounted that she had been brutalized by Shermantine for years, and said that he had beaten her while she was pregnant.

Cynthia 'Cyndi' Ann Vanderheiden
Cynthia "Cyndi" Ann
Vanderheiden

Although Cyndi Vanderheiden's body was never found, Testa took the jury through the details of the prosecution's theory that she had been kidnapped and killed during a methamphetamine-fueled meeting with Herzog and Shermantine. Many of the details were from Herzog's videotaped statement.

Shermantine was convicted of the four murders, and in May 2001 was sentenced to death by San Joaquin County Judge Michael Garrigan. Shermantine angrily protested that he was innocent and "never killed no one." He even cried at one point, saying that Chevy Wheeler had been his friend. During the trial, he had offered to provide authorities with the location of two bodies for $20,000, to be provided to his family, if prosecutors would drop their quest for the death penalty. The deal was not taken.

Shermantine was sent to San Quentin State Prison in Marin County shortly after sentencing.

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