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Hearing held in 1979 Pennsylvania homicide

December 09, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Some witnesses had to recall 20-year-old events during a hearing Thursday for a man charged with criminal homicide in the death of his best friend.

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The March 19, 1979, death of Alan Bennett Cosey, 23, of 226 W. Second St., Waynesboro, Pa., originally was ruled a suicide. It wasn't until nearly 19 years later, on Feb. 6, 1998, that Pennsylvania State Police charged Michael Wayne McCormick Jr. with Cosey's death.

The hearing was held to take testimony on defense motions to dismiss the charge because of the delay in it being filed, to suppress statements McCormick made to police in 1979 and 1998 and to ask Judge Richard J. Walsh to review a transcript of the preliminary hearing and dismiss the charge for lack of evidence.

According to court records, McCormick reported finding Cosey, who died of a gunshot to the chest from a black powder pistol he owned. Former Waynesboro Police Chief Jude T. Walsh testified Thursday the gun was in Cosey's right hand when he arrived at the scene.

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Retired state police Cpl. Paul Ciprich said he questioned McCormick that night but did not read him his Miranda rights. Ciprich said he arrived three hours after the shooting was reported and did not know if anyone had advised McCormick of his right to remain silent.

Walsh testified that McCormick told him he and Cosey had been out drinking the previous night, got into an argument, and McCormick got out of Cosey's car at Waynesboro's Center Square. McCormick told Walsh he "walked around until he felt calmer" before going to Cosey's apartment.

Walsh was asked by defense attorney Eric Weisbrod if he had considered McCormick a suspect.

"Absolutely," he replied.

Despite Walsh's suspicions, the death was ruled a suicide. Cosey's wife, Vicki Lemmon of Chambersburg, said she was convinced her husband had been killed.

During a break in the hearing, Lemmon said she told her suspicions to Chambersburg psychiatrist Harvey Shapiro. He contacted private investigator Kenneth L. Peiffer III, who told his father, Franklin County Coroner Kenneth L. Peiffer.

The coroner contacted state police, who reopened the investigation in July 1997, according to Trooper Mark Grove.

Grove said he interviewed McCormick on Feb. 4, 1998, for about two hours, but did not read him his Miranda rights.

Grove testified that McCormick told him he and Cosey were drinking beer and smoking marijuana at Cosey's apartment. Grove said McCormick told him Cosey put the gun in his mouth, they struggled over the weapon and it discharged.

"He said he then placed the gun in Cosey's hand to make it look like a suicide," Grove said.

Two days later McCormick took a lie detector test. Grove said the state police officer who administered the test said the results were inconclusive.

Grove said McCormick was told he "did not pass" the polygraph. After that, McCormick said Cosey asked him to help him commit suicide and McCormick pulled the trigger, Grove testified.

Jude Walsh recalled McCormick taking a polygraph test in 1979 that also was inconclusive.

The case is further complicated because the pathologist who conducted the autopsy has since died, as has the coroner and the doctor who signed the death certificate. And a retired state trooper said much of the physical evidence from the scene had been destroyed after the case was ruled a suicide.

Defense counsels Weisbrod and Assistant Public Defender Nancy Meyers and District Attorney John F. Nelson agreed to continue the case until the March trial term.

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