Wanda Holloway had always dreamed of her 13-year-old daughter, Shanna, joining the cheerleading squad. In fact, she dreamed about it long before Shanna was even born.
Shanna wasn’t so keen but Wanda enjoyed living vicariously through her teenage daughter and thought becoming a cheerleader would enhance her status at Channelview High School. “I wasn’t able to be a cheerleader when I was a girl. My daddy thought that all cheerleaders were whores,” she stated 1
As soon as she fell pregnant, she envisioned what her future daughter would become. Shanna was raised in the Texas tradition of Friday night high school football; when she was 5-years-old, her mother purchased Shanna her very first cheerleading outfit. The lengths Wanda went to in an attempt to achieve her cheerleading dream were unfathomable.
It was 1991 and Shanna tried out for the cheerleading squad at Channelview High School. When she received the unfortunate news that she didn’t make the cut, Wanda was inconsolable. Shanna brushed it off but Wanda was said to have met up with school officials and cried over the rejection. She soon found out that Shanna had just narrowly missed out because of fellow classmate, 13-year-old Amber Heath, who had gave a better performance. This wasn’t the first time Shanna had missed out on something because Amber surpassed her.
Wanda was seething. She concocted a plan to have Amber’s mother, Verna Heath, murdered.
Wanda theorised that Amber would be so distraught about the death of her mother that she would quit the cheerleading team thus creating space for Shanna. For years, Wanda and Verna were good friends; they went to each other’s homes for dinner and took it in turns to take their children to school.
Wanda contacted her former brother-in-law, Terry Lynn Harper, and asked him to find a hitman. Terry was on probation for drunken driving and as soon as he got the call, he contacted police. He didn’t want to get in any more trouble with the law, he stated. Additionally, Terry reportedly harboured ill feelings towards Wanda. When she was married to his brother, Tony, she had falsely accused him of sexual advances. 2
Police had Terry wear a hidden tape recorder and meet up with Wanda to discuss the plan. During their first meeting, Wanda detailed how she suggested “that Verna be kidnapped and sold into slavery.”3
Initially, Wanda requested both Amber and her mother be killed but changed her mind when she heard the price of a double-murder. Just Verna would do, she decided. “She really wanted the daughter done to get her completely out of the picture, but she figured if she got mom done that would upset the daughter enough to take her out of the picture,” said Harris County sheriff’s Sgt. Flint Blackwell.
A final price was decided and the wheels were now in motion to take Wanda down. After dropping Shanna off at Channelview Missionary Baptist Church, Wanda drove to Terry’s house and gave him a pair of expensive diamond earrings as a down payment on the hit. “I couldn’t pull the trigger myself, but I can sure do it this way,” she said.4 Within hours, Wanda was arrested.
The town was horrified and Wanda soon earned the moniker, “Pompon Mom.” Cheerleading is a big deal to some in Texas. Boys playing football and girls waving pompons at the sideline are the exemplar of the all-American teenager. “It’s what everyone wants to be,” said eighth-grader, Kristi Cartwright. “I guess they think cheerleads gets all the guys. But everyone was surprised someone would go this low for cheerleading…”5
During her trial, Wanda’s defence lawyer, Troy McKinney, argued that Terry Harper had set Wanda up so that his brother would regain custody of his two children. Wanda also argued that she deserved to be given a second chance and shouldn’t be sent to prison, sobbing that “this trial has been enough punishment for me. I’m totally humiliated.” 6
The jury weren’t swayed by her tears and after three hours deliberation, she was convicted of solicitation of capital murder. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
This conviction was overthrown, however, when it was uncovered that a juror was on probation for cocaine. During her second trial, Wanda admitted to the crime and earned a plea bargain. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with a $10,000 fine. During the sentencing, District Judge Godwin declared that if her behaviour was good that he will most likely suspend her sentence and put her on probation after six months. This is referred to as “shock probation” and is intended to give defendants a taste of life in prison in order to teach them a lesson.
Wanda’s lawyer declared that she still denied any wrongdoing but agreed to go to prison for the sake of Amber Heath and her daughter. Such a clear lack of remorse should surely be an indication that Wanda certainly hadn’t learnt a lesson while she had been in jail awaiting trial.
Nevertheless, after just six months in prison, Wanda was released, serving the remaining nine and a half years on probation.
The judge ordered her to never contact the Heath family or Terry Harper again. “There is justice today. I don’t want Wanda to stay in jail for the rest of her life,” said Verna Heath in regards to her release.