Two days before her mother was shot and killed, Tanna Paterno received a text from her.
“God put in my heart today that he wants me to find peace in the midst of the storm, and I will have peace,” RaDonna Holman’s message read.
On Dec. 10, authorities in Lawrence County in southwest Missouri arrested the husband of Paterno’s mother, David Holman. They charged him with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in his wife’s death.
On Dec. 12, Paterno filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Holman. Much of it was about cattle.
It was the first in a flurry of swift civil court motions, initiated almost immediately after the shooting, in which Paterno tried to freeze the assets of the accused killer.
Paterno wanted Holman to have as little money as possible available to hire a defense lawyer or bond out of jail. She argued that her mother may have owned some of those assets.
It represented an approach some area lawyers find novel, and one that could tempt the survivors of other murder victims to follow. Still, such an approach has limits, such as when a defendant doesn’t have many assets to start with.
But Paterno felt compelled to fight the possibility of Holman bonding out.
“I didn’t want him getting out,” Paterno said.
On Dec. 13 Holman applied for a public defender but learned he was not eligible. Bond later was set at $500,000, and a Springfield lawyer soon helped him post it.
“The Constitution guarantees a man the to right to bond,” said Roger Jones of Springfield, Holman’s defense attorney, adding that he has empathy for Paterno.
RaDonna Holman had a challenging life as a young woman, her daughter said.
“She grew up on the streets, she moved around a lot and took care of herself.”
But in recent years RaDonna Holman had earned a degree in computer programming and had served as a substitute teacher in the Piper School District.
About four years ago, she met David Holman online. Eventually she sold her home in Kansas City, Kan., and moved to southwest Missouri to marry him. Paterno was happy for her mother.
“She saw a chance to do what she wanted, to have cows and chickens, to have a garden and do some canning,” Paterno said. “For the first two years, she was happy.”
But the marriage began to go bad.
“He flattened her tires,” said Dave Bankston, Paterno’s fiance. “He was reading her diaries and notebooks. She was scared to leave.”
After learning of the shooting, Bankston and Paterno drove to Lawrence County. Through their lawyer, they filed a wrongful-death suit that included an affidavit regarding the cattle, submitting it only three days after Holman’s arrest.
There was no time to wait with the cattle, according to Bankston.
“I grew up on a farm,” Bankston said. “It was December. Some of the cows were calving in the snow. It was a bad situation.”
While removing personal items from the home, they recovered a logbook in which RaDonna Holman had recorded details regarding the cattle, they say. The 33 animals had been owned and tagged separately.
“Most of David’s cows here were older, mush-mouth cows,” Bankston said.
In January, a court ordered the cattle sold and the proceeds divided evenly between the surviving daughter and David Holman, with payments arranged for a neighbor who had been caring for the livestock.
Paterno and Bankston still wanted to freeze other assets. That included the about 65 acres that Holman insists had been given to him by his mother and to which RaDonna Holman, Jones said, had no claim.
A Lawrence County judge ordered Paterno and Bankston to post a $200,000 bond if they wanted to freeze Holman’s property assets. Paterno and Bankston believed the land had been appraised too high.
In January, a local real estate broker submitted a letter describing the Holman property as in need of repair and worth perhaps $135,000.
Jones said he made an offer to Paterno and Bankston through which he would sell the property and use some proceeds toward obtaining bond as well as putting $50,000 aside for Paterno as partial satisfaction toward any future wrongful-death settlement. Both Paterno and Bankston contest that version of events.
A judge ultimately set Holman’s bond at $500,000. Holman retained Jones, who helped him post bond, using deeds of trust on Holman’s property to secure a bonding agency’s involvement.
As part of the bond agreement, sheriff’s deputies removed all guns and ammunition from the Holman home.
Free on bond
Jake Jacoby, an Independence criminal lawyer, considers the efforts by Paterno and Bankston unusual for two reasons: First, many times those accused of murder do not have substantial amounts of assets. Secondly, often they are accused of killing somebody they are not related to.
But here both assets and family are in play.
“When you have a husband and wife, that’s an unusual situation,” he said.
Yet Kansas City criminal attorney John P. O’Connor didn’t consider the story that unusual.
“Just about every criminal case,” he said, “has a civil aspect.”
That is more true, O’Connor added, “if there are assets that the accused person could move, transfer, conceal or take off with. These people appear to be trying to prevent that.”
O’Connor said he’s surprised that such civil actions are not pursued more often.
None of Paterno and Bankston’s legal efforts directly affect the criminal case.
According to court documents, authorities received a 911 call just after midnight on Dec. 10 from David Holman about a shooting at his residence.
Deputies found RaDonna Holman on a bed in the house with a single gunshot wound in the chest.
David Holman told deputies that his wife shot him with a .40-caliber gun, and then he shot her with a .357-caliber Magnum.
Authorities found that David Holman had been shot in the left arm. Court documents say he told authorities he was in the kitchen when he was shot and that he shot his wife while she was standing by the bed.
“The statement that David gave was inconsistent with the trajectory evidence of the crime scene,” the probable cause statement read. An autopsy determined that RaDonna Holman died from “a gunshot through her back.”
Now Holman is free on bond, and Paterno finds that unsettling.
On some occasions when her mother and Holman had argued, Paterno said, she drove to a sister’s home in Oklahoma rather than to Paterno’s home in Parkville.
“She didn’t want him to follow her up here,” Paterno said.
“Now this guy is out on the street and the trial isn’t scheduled until June 2015,” Bankston said.
Holman’s release was made on conditions of electronic monitoring and drug testing. He can’t leave the state and can’t travel more than 100 miles from his home. Lawrence County is more than 150 miles south of the Kansas City area.
That’s little comfort to Paterno.
“It’s never been about money,” Bankston added. “It was always about keeping him in jail.”
Paterno also said she has lost a fundamental feeling of safety and security that her mother represented to her.
“My mother grew up on the streets, she moved around a lot and often didn’t have a home to go to at night,” she said.
“So she took care of herself. And that was the one thing she always saw to, that our home and our bed was our safe spot. It has taken away my security and peace of mind.”
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