Pa. man pleads no contest in wife's slaying

November 20, 1996


Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The 1988 death of Jane Mitchell Souders might forever have been chalked up to suicide.

But partly because of her friend Todd Rexroth, Jane Souders' husband was convicted Monday of shooting her.

Still, Rexroth believes that the maximum 10-year prison sentence awaiting Joseph Leroy Souders for voluntary manslaughter isn't severe enough.

"This really bothers me," said Rexroth, 32, of Newburg, Pa. "She's still heavy on my mind and I did what I had to do."

Rexroth, who had become close friends with Jane Souders while the two were patients of the psychiatric unit at Chambersburg Hospital, told his psychiatrist that he didn't think her death was a suicide.


Pennsylvania State Police reopened the case after Chambersburg psychiatrist Dr. Harvey Shapiro passed along Rexroth's concerns in a letter to Franklin County Coroner Kenneth Peiffer Jr.

On Monday, Joseph Souders, 56, of 13553 Karper Road, Mercersburg, pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter, which means he admits there was enough evidence to prove him guilty, according to Franklin County Court records.

Sentencing has been set for Jan. 8, after he undergoes a psychiatric evaluation at Cumberland Valley Mental Health Center.

Police originally believed Jane Souders shot herself July 5, 1988, at her Little Cove Road mobile home near Mercersburg.

She was flown by helicopter to Hershey Medical Center, where she died, Peiffer said.

At the time, a pathologist at Hershey concluded the fatal gunshot was fired by someone other than Jane Souders, Peiffer said.

But the original police investigation turned up no evidence of homicide, he said.

Last May, nearly eight years later, Joseph Souders was arrested and charged with criminal homicide and aggravated assault, court records show.

Rexroth said he still thinks about Jane Souders, who was 51 when she died.

The two became close at the hospital, where both were trying to get through trauma in their lives, he said.

He said Jane Souders was the driver in a car crash that killed her mother and son.

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