Man sentenced in 8-year-old slaying case

January 08, 1997


Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - After being sentenced Wednesday to five to 10 years in prison for killing his wife, Joseph Leroy Souders waved to his sisters as he was being led from a Franklin County courtroom, but he avoided the gaze of his former sister-in-law, Donna Wetzel.

Before Souders was sentenced, Wetzel was permitted to read a letter to Judge John Walker. In the letter, she said the July 5, 1988, death of her sister, Jane Mitchell Souders, 51, has resulted in an eight-year "nightmare that doesn't go away. Joe has lived a lie for eight years. Now that lie has come to haunt him."

Souders, 56, of 13553 Karper Road, Mercersburg, displayed no emotion when Walker imposed the sentence.

Souders pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in November, according to court records.

A no contest plea means a defendant admits there is enough evidence for a prosecutor to win a conviction.


Police originally believed that Jane Souders died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, even though a Hershey Medical Center pathologist concluded that the fatal gunshot was fired by someone other than the victim, officials said at the time.

The case remained dormant until last year when Dr. Harvey Shapiro, a Chambersburg psychiatrist, in a letter to the coroner, said a close friend of Jane Souders' told him her husband had threatened to kill her.

In her letter to the judge Wednesday, Wetzel said Souders has shown no remorse for shooting his wife, who was found in her mobile home on Little Cove Road near Mercersburg, Pa. At one point during her remarks, Wetzel turned to Souders and said, "My pastor said I have to forgive you. In my heart of hearts I forgive you, but I will never understand why you did it."

Joseph Souders was arrested in May 1996 and initially charged with criminal homicide and aggravated assault, according to court records.

Walker told Souders he will be eligible for parole in five years. Five to 10 years is the maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter. Walker said he considered Wetzel's letter in making his decision.

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