Defense: 1st-degree murder not applicable in mother’s slaying |

Defense: 1st-degree murder not applicable in mother’s slaying

Sarah Vercauteren, 25, is accused of killing her mother by bashing her in the head with a hammer on New Year’s Eve.

The attorney for a Westmoreland County woman accused of killing her mother and stealing her car may argue that the woman was so addicted to drugs she was unable to form an intent to kill.

After a pretrial hearing Friday, Public Defender Wayne McGrew said Sarah Vercauteren should not be found guilty of first-degree murder for Dawn Marie Wagner’s death Dec. 31.

“It’s a possible defense we’re looking at — diminished capacity,” McGrew said.

Vercauteren, 26, is charged with first-degree and second-degree murder for the bludgeoning death of Wagner, 51, in her Salem home. Under state law, first-degree murder is a premeditated killing, and second-degree is the killing of another during the commission of a felony.

Police said Vercauteren bashed her mother 18 times with a hammer and strangled her because Wagner refused to let her daughter use her car.

Vercauteren was arrested 10 days later for a bank robbery in Versailles. After she was taken into custody, she confessed that she killed her mother, police said.

According to testimony at a preliminary hearing, Vercauteren said in a taped confession that as she and her mother argued about use of the car, she spotted a hammer and used it to repeatedly strike the victim. She then strangled her mother to make sure she was dead, according to testimony.

The prosecution contends Vercauteren intended to kill her mother.

“I’ll point to the statement she provided to police where she made clear it was her intention to kill her mother and fully understood what she was doing. The assault came out of her mother’s refusal to give Sarah the keys to her car,” District Attorney John Peck said.

Common Pleas Judge Chris Feliciani ordered that a prosecution psychologist examine Vercauteren.

The trial has not been scheduled.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].

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