Last Modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 10:19 AM
OBERLIN — An Oberlin man charged with killing his wife during an argument in June pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree murder.
Joseph Eric Vercher, 45, was arraigned before Judge Joel Davis in 33rd Judicial District Court. His trial date is set for Feb. 24.
Vercher is accused of fatally stabbing his estranged wife, Rachel Denise Lambert Vercher, 34, during an argument on the night of June 29. The Verchers, who had been married about a year, were separated at the time, according to family members.
Authorities said Vercher stabbed his wife, slit her throat and then threw her body in underbrush on a rural road just north of Oberlin before turning himself in to police.
A white cross and flowers now mark the spot where she died.
“I’ve only been there once, but to me it looks very peaceful,” Rachel’s mother, Renee Lambert, said. “She deserves some peace after what she went through.”
Lambert said the couple’s relationship was troublesome and described Joseph Vercher as abusive, controlling and threatening. She said he often stalked her daughter, constantly calling her when they were not together and just “showing up” wherever she was.
“I told Rachel several times to get away — that he was going to kill her,” Lambert said. “But I thought he’d kill her, then kill himself.”
The marriage was Rachel Vercher’s third and Joseph Vercher’s second, Lambert said.
Nearly 40 of Rachel Vercher’s family members and friends — including her two teenage daughters — packed the courtroom Thursday. They wore purple bracelets, buttons and T-shirts with her face on them, along with the words “Justice for Rachel” and “In Loving Memory.”
Her daughters, Blakely, 15, and Hailey, 13, said their mom would have been proud of the support. Rachel Vercher’s 9-year-old son was at school and did not attend the hearing with his sisters.
“We will be here every time until justice is served,” her uncle Artis Veazey Jr. said. “Anything less than life in prison without parole will not be accepted by us. We want him put away for the rest of his life.”
Holding a photo of her mother and brushing back tears, Blakely said she wants to see Joseph Vercher spend the rest of his life in jail.
“My mom won’t get to see the rest of her life,” she said. “And she’s going to miss out on a lot of her kids’ lives.”
Blakely said her mother was her best friend.
“I want him to pay for what he did to my niece,” uncle Ray Farmer said. “His going to jail will not bring my niece back, but at least he will pay one way or the other for what he did.”
Veazey said his niece died of blunt-force trauma to the head and multiple stab wounds.
“But I think he beat her to death first,” Veazey said. “She had severe trauma to the head and defensive wounds on her hands and legs. She was probably trying to fight him off.”
Police initially charged Joseph Vercher with manslaughter, but the charge was upgraded to second-degree murder by a grand jury earlier this month.
He was also charged with obstruction of justice.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Vercher faces life in prison without parole.
Vercher, who is being held in the Pine Prairie Correction Center, is represented by court-appointed attorney Chad Guidry.