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Archive for Wednesday, November 10, 1999

Bledsoe recieves murder charge

November 10, 1999

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— The brother of the girl's brother-in-law was charged Tuesday in the death of the 14-year-old.

The man who led authorities to 14-year-old Zetta Camille Arfmann's body early Monday in rural Jefferson County was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in her killing.

Thomas E. Bledsoe, 25, was ordered held without bond by Jefferson County District Magistrate Judge Dennis Reiling.

Bledsoe was developed as a suspect in Arfmann's disappearance during the weekend. Arfmann was last seen Friday afternoon getting off a school bus.

Phone calls Bledsoe made to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department led investigators to believe he might know more about the girl's whereabouts.

"Right before it came about that he was coming in, he was developed as a suspect," said Jeff Herrig, Jefferson County Undersheriff. "He made a couple of phone calls indicating he knew more about the case."

Herrig declined to say what Bledsoe told sheriff's officers that led them to consider him a suspect.

After the phone calls, Sheriff Roy Dunnaway met with Bledsoe, Bledsoe's attorney Michael Hayes and County Attorney Jim Vanderbilt. Bledsoe then led sheriff's officers to Arfmann's body, which was buried underneath dirt and trash in a ditch northwest of Oskaloosa. Arfmann's body was found at 2:30 a.m. Monday; Bledsoe was arrested at 2:45 a.m.

Bledsoe has not confessed to killing Arfmann, Herrig said. Neither has he or Hayes offered information for a plea agreement.

"We have a lot of work to do," Herrig said of the ongoing investigation. "We'll let the attorneys work out the legal aspects."

Arfmann's body was found just north of the home where Bledsoe has lived all his life with his parents, Dunnaway said.

A portion of that property is owned by Bledsoe, it was a bequest to him from his grandmother, Ida Bledsoe, who died in June, according to county records.

During the hearing, Vanderbilt asked that no bond be set for Bledsoe because of the "heinous" nature of Arfmann's slaying.

"We need to protect the public from it happening again," Vanderbilt said.

Hayes, an Oskaloosa attorney, said he may request a cash bond be set for Bledsoe at a preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for Dec. 20.

Charges were filed against Bledsoe shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday. The rural Jefferson County man had his first appearance hearing about 3 p.m. in the county courthouse here.

Security was tight around Bledsoe -- brought into the courtroom in shackles -- as he moved in and out of the courthouse.

Court officials could be heard discussing concerns that "vigilantes" might take some action against Bledsoe.

But, Reiling said security precautions for Bledsoe's first appearance were not out of the ordinary. And the small, second courtroom was chosen, not to limit the number of people present in court, but because a jury trial was under way in the larger courtroom.

Bledsoe does not face capital murder charges, Reiling said. But, two lawyers from the Death Penalty Division of the Indigent Defense Services Board were in the courtroom observing the hearing. They may assist Hayes if other charges are filed against Bledsoe that would place him at risk of facing the death penalty.

Bledsoe was not required to enter a plea at the first appearance hearing.

Bledsoe is the brother of Arfmann's brother-in-law, Floyd Bledsoe Jr., according to Dunnaway and family members.

Arfmann died of a gunshot wound. Jefferson County officials declined to release any other information about other injuries the girl may have received.

According to the charges read in the courtroom by Reiling, Arfmann was killed Friday.

Sheriff's officers, family and friends searched for the 14-year-old honor student during the weekend. She was supposed to attend a church youth group event Friday night. Her absence was not discovered until she failed to arrive at her mother's home in Winchester, where she was supposed to go following the church event. Family members reported her missing at 12:50 a.m. Saturday.

During the weekend, sheriff's officers used bloodhounds to search for Arfmann, who was described by friends and family members as a shy, hardworking girl who always wore a smile.

-- Erwin Seba's phone message number is 832-7145. His e-mail address is eseba@ljworld.com.

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