Change Of Plea Hearing Scheduled For Suspect In 1975 Murder Of Laurel Jean Mitchell

May 21, 2024 at 6:48 p.m.
John Lehman
John Lehman

By Liz Adkins, InkFreeNews

AUBURN — A change of plea hearing has been scheduled for one of the men arrested in the murder of North Webster teenager Laurel Jean Mitchell, a case that has remained cold since 1975.
John Wayne Lehman, 68, of Auburn, is charged with first degree murder.
Lehman's change of plea hearing is at 11:30 a.m. June 18 in Noble Circuit Court. At a change of plea hearing, a "not guilty" plea entered on a defendant's behalf is withdrawn, with the defendant pleading guilty to the crime or crimes they are charged with.
Lehman's co-defendant, Fred Bandy Jr., will be taking his case to trial in October.
On Aug. 6, 1975, Mitchell, 17, was dropped off at Epworth Forest Church Camp to work her shift at a snack bar. Around 10 p.m. that night, after her shift ended, she was seen walking in Epworth Forest to meet her friends at Adventureland Amusement Park on the north side of North Webster. This was the last time Mitchell was seen alive.
Around 4:16 a.m. Aug. 7, 1975, a missing person report with the Indiana State Police was filed for Mitchell. At 10:30 a.m. that same day, two fishermen discovered Mitchell's body in the Elkhart River.
An autopsy performed on Mitchell revealed she made "a violent struggle to survive." Her cause of death was ruled to be drowning.

    Laurel Jean Mitchell
 
 

All of the clothing and belongings found on Mitchell's body at the time of her death were preserved for testing, including shoes, a sweatshirt, bra, underwear, silver jewelry, and blue jeans that were inside out, unbuttoned and unzipped.
Recent testing of these items led authorities to Bandy and Lehman, as well as years of testimony from those who know the men.
In 2013, the Noble County Sheriff's Department was contacted by an individual who claimed Lehman admitted he and Bandy were involved in a crime together. The details provided in this testimony were consistent with the findings made by police in Mitchell's case.
On July 3, 2014, an individual reported that Bandy had claimed he committed the crime that took place at Mallard's Roost, a public access site adjacent to the location Mitchell's body was found at.
On Sept. 25, 2019, Noble County Sheriff's Department received a report that years ago, at a high school party, Bandy said he and Lehman committed Mitchell's murder together.
Mitchell's clothing was resubmitted for DNA testing in 2019. In February 2020, a Certificate of Analysis was generated by the ISP Laboratory Division that showed a male DNA profile was developed from the clothing.
On Dec. 5, 2022, a voluntary DNA sample was collected from Bandy and submitted to the ISP Laboratory Division.
Results were received by authorities on Jan. 13, 2023, in a Certificate of Analysis that revealed Bandy was 13 billion times more likely to be the contributor of the DNA found in Mitchell's clothing than any other unknown person.
Review of ISP records also disclosed Bandy was driving a 1971 "Olds" at the time, which is consistent with eyewitness statements from area residents on the night of the murder.

AUBURN — A change of plea hearing has been scheduled for one of the men arrested in the murder of North Webster teenager Laurel Jean Mitchell, a case that has remained cold since 1975.
John Wayne Lehman, 68, of Auburn, is charged with first degree murder.
Lehman's change of plea hearing is at 11:30 a.m. June 18 in Noble Circuit Court. At a change of plea hearing, a "not guilty" plea entered on a defendant's behalf is withdrawn, with the defendant pleading guilty to the crime or crimes they are charged with.
Lehman's co-defendant, Fred Bandy Jr., will be taking his case to trial in October.
On Aug. 6, 1975, Mitchell, 17, was dropped off at Epworth Forest Church Camp to work her shift at a snack bar. Around 10 p.m. that night, after her shift ended, she was seen walking in Epworth Forest to meet her friends at Adventureland Amusement Park on the north side of North Webster. This was the last time Mitchell was seen alive.
Around 4:16 a.m. Aug. 7, 1975, a missing person report with the Indiana State Police was filed for Mitchell. At 10:30 a.m. that same day, two fishermen discovered Mitchell's body in the Elkhart River.
An autopsy performed on Mitchell revealed she made "a violent struggle to survive." Her cause of death was ruled to be drowning.

    Laurel Jean Mitchell
 
 

All of the clothing and belongings found on Mitchell's body at the time of her death were preserved for testing, including shoes, a sweatshirt, bra, underwear, silver jewelry, and blue jeans that were inside out, unbuttoned and unzipped.
Recent testing of these items led authorities to Bandy and Lehman, as well as years of testimony from those who know the men.
In 2013, the Noble County Sheriff's Department was contacted by an individual who claimed Lehman admitted he and Bandy were involved in a crime together. The details provided in this testimony were consistent with the findings made by police in Mitchell's case.
On July 3, 2014, an individual reported that Bandy had claimed he committed the crime that took place at Mallard's Roost, a public access site adjacent to the location Mitchell's body was found at.
On Sept. 25, 2019, Noble County Sheriff's Department received a report that years ago, at a high school party, Bandy said he and Lehman committed Mitchell's murder together.
Mitchell's clothing was resubmitted for DNA testing in 2019. In February 2020, a Certificate of Analysis was generated by the ISP Laboratory Division that showed a male DNA profile was developed from the clothing.
On Dec. 5, 2022, a voluntary DNA sample was collected from Bandy and submitted to the ISP Laboratory Division.
Results were received by authorities on Jan. 13, 2023, in a Certificate of Analysis that revealed Bandy was 13 billion times more likely to be the contributor of the DNA found in Mitchell's clothing than any other unknown person.
Review of ISP records also disclosed Bandy was driving a 1971 "Olds" at the time, which is consistent with eyewitness statements from area residents on the night of the murder.

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