Murder accomplice hears wrath of family
Probation, jail and drug treatment were ordered for a woman convicted of playing a role after the killing of James Vannberg last summer, but not before she faced family members of the slain victim Monday in Nevada County Superior Court.
Heather Gereau, 21, was sentenced to five years’ probation, six months in jail and 18 months of inpatient and outpatient treatment. She already has credit for serving 144 days in jail.
She earlier pleaded no contest as part of a plea bargain requiring she testify against James A. Burke II. A third defendant, David Leffingwell, has pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter.
Vannberg was bludgeoned to death with a crowbar July 9 in beatings that occurred at South Yuba Campground, near Edwards Crossing and a nearby dirt road, where he was found partially buried, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
At a recent hearing, Gereau said she heard Vannberg getting beaten at the campsite, prompting her to walk away. Later, she said, she and Leffingwell followed Burke’s orders and cleaned blood at the scene.
She also claimed providing Burke a lighter at Greenhorn Creek, where Vannberg’s Jeep Cherokee was found torched. Burke is facing murder and arson charges.
Gereau and Leffingwell reported Vannberg’s death a few days later.
On Monday, Vannberg’s father, sister and wife spoke to Gereau.
The sister, Darci Vannberg, forgave Gereau but cried while discussing the loss of her brother.
“I know for the rest of your life you’re going to see my brother in your head, and I’m sorry you’re going to see him in such a horrible way,” she said, adding, “He really liked you a lot …”
Others in the courtroom, including Gereau’s mother, cried.
Vannberg’s wife, Joli Vannberg, was more harsh, saying she was convinced Gereau played a role in her husband’s death, which left two boys fatherless.
She told Gereau: “I won’t waste my hate on you.”
Vannberg’s father, David Vannberg, spoke more to the court than Gereau. His son, he said, suffered “the most ignominious death Nevada County has seen in many years.”
He also touched on his son’s disabilities, which Joli Vannberg has said included paranoid schizophrenia.
James Vannberg trusted and loved the wrong people, which in ways was enviable, his father said. He added his son was child-like in ways, and while he looked like someone who could defend himself, “he was not.”
After imposing sentence, Judge Ersel Edwards said he was troubled by Gereau’s actions, which he said were motivated by fear.
“I didn’t see an overriding concern about immorality, and that bothers me,” the judge said. “I hope I’m wrong. I don’t think I’m wrong, but I hope I am.”
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