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Published: Monday, 4/4/2011

Van Wert

Woman fights parole for killer of sister in 1974

College freshman was raped, stabbed

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Kay Miller was 17 when her older sister — her only sister — was snatched from her bicycle not far from their Van Wert, Ohio, home, brutally raped, and murdered.

Thirty-seven years later, almost to the day, the man who killed Cheryl Ann Felger will again go before the Indiana Parole Board seeking release.

"I hope he does not get out," Ms. Miller, 54, said. "If they have to let him out for some God unknown reason, I hope he doesn't mess with anyone else, and I hope he leaves me and my family and my friends alone."

Ernest Tope, 57, of Decatur, Ind., is to go before the parole board April 14 at the Correctional Industrial Facility where he is housed.

Tope was 21 on April 12, 1974, when he and Timothy Heckert, 20, also of Decatur, left a Van Wert bar where they'd been drinking and shooting pool and spotted Ms. Felger, 19, riding her bicycle to a friend's house. They abducted her, sexually assaulted her in the car, then drove her to a field near Decatur where Tope stabbed her 96 times and left her to die.

Ms. Felger's body was found the next day. Her father, George Felger, had the grim task of identifying his daughter's remains.

Tope was convicted by a jury in Allen County, Indiana, of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, but a change in Indiana's sentencing laws subsequently made him eligible for release.

Heckert, who claimed to have stayed in the car while Tope killed Ms. Felger, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 to 25 years.

He was paroled, then imprisoned again for unrelated convictions.

When Tope came up for parole in previous years — 1995, 1996, 2001, and 2006 — Ms. Miller said her father worked with her and other supporters to collect signatures on petitions imploring the parole board to keep the killer behind bars.

With her father's death two years ago, she and a friend are carrying on the work this time, helped online by Bret Vinocur, a volunteer victims advocate who runs the Web site blockparole.com.

Mr. Vinocur said he was appalled by the brutality of the violence in Ms Felger's case.

"This girl was stabbed 96 times and the coroner said she didn't die right away," he said. "She lived for half an hour in that field with 96 stab wounds."

Ms. Felger's story is recounted on the Web site, which provides a link to send an e-mail or letter to the parole board opposing Tope's release.

Ms. Miller said she has had petitions in businesses in and around Van Wert and will mail the hundreds of signatures to the parole board along with a personal letter on her sister's behalf. She does not plan to attend the parole hearing.

"I'd kind of like to go, but I don't really want to go to the prison because I don't think I want to be that close," she said. "They said he would be in the same room with all the people having those hearings. I don't want him to get an up-close look at what I look like."

Ms. Miller said her only sibling was always on the go. She was a freshman at Wright State University's Celina campus when she was killed.

"She was very smart. She knew what she wanted," Ms. Miller recalled. "She pretty much went after what she wanted to do."

Ms. Felger was particular about her things, which meant her younger sister often was called on the carpet if she borrowed clothes or other possessions without asking. Ms. Miller said that's why she and her father knew something was wrong the night her sister's bicycle was found parked along the street a couple blocks from their house.

"The night when my Dad saw her bicycle sitting up against the telephone pole he came back and asked me to go check and see if it was hers," Ms. Miller said, adding that it was and she brought it home. "I said she would have never left her bike being that close. She was real particular about making sure her stuff was where it should be."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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