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Grand jury seated in Pa.

September 01, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Twenty-one women and nine men were given "powers of the highest order" on Monday, when they were chosen for an investigative grand jury.

"They're going to be learning an awful lot about things going on in Franklin County," Judge Richard J. Walsh said after the selection of the 23 grand jurors and seven alternates.

Over the next 18 months, the jury will hear testimony and examine evidence in secret and decide whether to issue presentments - recommendations that criminal charges be filed.

This year, the jury is scheduled to hear testimony on Oct. 22 and 23 and Dec. 10 and 11.

"You may compel a witness to appear before you and testify under oath," Walsh told the jurors. They can also subpoena documents, records and physical evidence, he said.

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"You have been given powers of the highest order," Walsh said.

Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson has said he cannot question witnesses under oath in cases in which no criminal charges have been filed, unless it is before a grand jury.

Nelson said on Monday that witnesses can assert their right against self-incrimination. The jury can recommend the supervising judge grant limited or blanket immunity after which "they no longer have that Fifth Amendment right."

Walsh said witnesses who fail to cooperate can be found in contempt and jailed.

While jurors and court officials are sworn to secrecy about testimony, witnesses are not, Walsh said. They may be represented by counsel, but a defense attorney cannot raise objections or question witnesses.

Nelson has said he wanted the grand jury to investigate unsolved homicides and drug activity in the county. Its scope would not be limited to those areas, however.

Pennsylvania State Police records show at least three unsolved homicides:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Debra Ray Witmer, 21, of St. Thomas, Pa., disappeared May 27, 1981. Her remains were found 11 months later in a quarry near Williamson, Pa., according to police records.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Freddie W. Brumfield, 18, of Chambersburg, was found shot dead along Funk Road in Letterkenny Township, Pa., on Jan. 13, 1995, according to police.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Maryann Stahlman, 24, of Cumberland, Md., was found dead of a gunshot wound on Feb. 5, 1997, in Fulton County, Pa. Police found her damaged car at a restaurant near Greencastle, Pa.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Melvin E. Snyder, 42, of Greencastle, disappeared on May 25, 1985. No one was ever charged, but police said in 1994 his disappearance "was not voluntary, but a methodically planned criminal conspiracy."

The investigation into these and other cases the jury may look into will remain secret until criminal charges are filed, according to Nelson.

Walsh said some of the 73 people called might be disappointed by not being picked, but that wasn't the case for Josephine E. Lahr.

"Not really. I'm just doing my duty being here," the retired Chambersburg woman said after being passed over.

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