BRIDGETON — Confessed wife killer and former Millville police sergeant Robert Vanaman will spend less time in state prison under a new sentence imposed in Superior Court here Wednesday.
Superior Court Judge Martin Herman resentenced Vanaman to a six-year term on a charge of manslaughter for the 2006 shooting death of 37-year-old Barbara Vanaman.
Herman originally sentenced Robert Vanaman to eight years on the manslaughter charge in May 2009. Herman also sentenced Vanaman to an additional one year in state prison on a charge of evidence tampering.
The one-year sentence on the evidence-tampering charge remains, and will be served consecutive to the manslaughter penalty.
State Department of Corrections records show that Vanaman would be eligible for parole on Feb. 2, 2016, under Herman’s original sentence. Officials with the New Jersey State Parole Board on Wednesday estimated that Vanaman’s new sentence makes him eligible for parole in May 2014.
Corrections Department records give Vanaman’s entry into the state prison system as May 1, 2009. The records show he is being held in the Mid-State Correction Facility in Wrightstown, Burlington County.
The Appellate Division of Superior Court recently found that Herman inappropriately considered Vanaman’s employment as a police officer when deciding on an appropriate sentence. The appeals court then ordered Herman to resentence Vanaman.
Cumberland County Executive Assistant Prosecutor Linda Lawhun said the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office is “disappointed” with the new sentence.
“We believe that the record that was created at the time of the original sentencing still supports a sentence of eight years on the manslaughter charge,” Lawhun said. “We’re disappointed that the judge felt otherwise.”
However, the new manslaughter sentence is more than that requested by Vanaman’s attorney, Charles Sandilos, during arguments before Herman last week. Sandilos wanted a five-year state prison stay on the manslaughter charge.
Robert Vanaman shot Barbara Vanaman with his service weapon in the kitchen of their Millville home during an argument on May 11, 2006. Authorities said the argument stemmed from the couple’s marital problems.
Robert Vanaman originally told police he shot his wife after she attacked him with a knife. He later confessed that the knife wounds on his arms were self-inflicted.
A backlog in Cumberland County’s criminal-court system resulted in Herman being called out of retirement to preside over Vanaman’s case. He was called out of retirement again for the sole purpose of handling the resentencing.
Vanaman’s resentencing proceedings were interrupted last Wednesday when a bomb scare forced the evacuation of the Cumberland County courthouse. The evacuation occurred at about 12:20 p.m., shortly after Herman heard final arguments from Lawhun and Sandilos and remarks from Barbara Vanaman’s family members. Herman was prepared to issue his new sentence at 1:30 p.m.
Robert Vanaman was returned to state prison by the time people were finally allowed back into the courthouse shortly after 3 p.m. Herman left the building after Vanaman was returned to prison.
However, Herman issued a short apology last Wednesday to the family members of both Robert and Barbara Vanaman for their having to come back to court again for the resentencing.
“I tried to do my very best,” Herman said. “I didn’t. I’m not happy I’m here today. I’m not happy that anyone else is here today to relive all the angst and pain that you initially went though. I’m sorry about that. I really apologize that I didn’t do a better job.”
Members of Barbara Vanaman’s family contend Herman’s eight-year sentence wasn’t stringent enough.
Under the terms of the plea agreement reached between Robert Vanaman and the Prosecutor’s Office, Herman had the discretion to impose a state prison sentence of from five to 10 years on the manslaughter charge.
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