By Liz Shepherd
ALBION — The two men currently in custody for allegedly murdering 17-year-old Laurel Jean Mitchell in 1975 have had public defenders assigned to their cases.
James J. Abbs, Albion, is serving as the lead public defender for Fred Bandy Jr., 67, Goshen. Sarah E. Ober and J. Seth Tipton, Avilla, are also serving as co-public defenders for Bandy.
Aaron J. Stoll, Fort Wayne, is serving as the lead public defender for John Wayne Lehman, 67, Auburn. Bart L. Arnold, Fort Wayne, is serving as a co-public defender for Lehman.
Lehman and Bandy are currently being held in the Noble County Jail without bond following the murder of Laurel Jean Mitchell, a North Webster teenager whose body was found in the Elkhart River on Aug. 7, 1975. Her cause of death was drowning, with an autopsy showing signs Mitchell made “a violent struggle to survive.”
During an initial hearing on Feb. 8, Bandy and Lehman were informed by Noble Circuit Court Judge Michael Kramer they each face a charge of murder in the first degree.
With current Indiana law, an individual convicted of murder faces a prison sentence between 45 to 65 years, with the advisory sentence being 55 years. However, since Mitchell’s death occurred in 1975, if the men are convicted of first-degree murder, both Bandy and Lehman could be sentenced to life in prison, which was the maximum possible prison sentence at that time.
No guilty pleas for both Lehman and Bandy were entered on their behalf by Kramer.
Bandy and Lehman’s arrests happened on Monday, Feb. 6. An affidavit of probable cause states DNA evidence and witness testimony connects Bandy and Lehman to Mitchell’s murder.
A pre-trial conference for both Bandy and Lehman is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. April 24 in Noble County.