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Judge allows jail statements in Ross homicide trial

April 17, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County Judge John R. Walker has ruled that alleged jailhouse statements by a man charged with criminal homicide will be admissible in court, despite assistance by authorities to inmates who provided the information.

Timothy J. Ross "has an inability to keep his mouth closed," Walker wrote in a ruling on several defense motions that was filed Monday with the County Clerk of Courts Office.

Testimony on the motions to suppress evidence was heard at a pre-trial hearing held March 2 and 17.

The defense was seeking to suppress statements Ross allegedly made to three inmates - Alfred Carr, Leslie Schetrompf and Duane Ferguson - while all four were in Franklin County Prison. The prisoners later told Chambersburg police, according to hearing testimony.

Ross, 27, of Chambersburg, is charged in the March 1999 shooting death of Drake Luckett, 34, of 217 Linden Ave., Chambersburg, at Dave's Tavern, 401 S. Main St. Luckett was shot in the chest as he opened a side door of the tavern, according to police records.

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Schetrompf testified March 17 that Ross told him the incident began with Luckett bumping into him and spilling his drink. Carr testified also about statements Ross made to him while in jail. Earlier this year, Ferguson talked with police about jailhouse statements by Ross, according to the testimony.

For Schetrompf's cooperation, a Pennsylvania State trooper testified on his behalf at a sentencing hearing in Fulton County, according to court records. In Carr's case, a trooper reported to his state parole officer that he cooperated in the investigation, court records said.

In exchange for Ferguson's cooperation, a witness intimidation charge against him will be dismissed, Assistant District Attorney David Rahauser said. Ferguson was charged with threatening a cousin who was at the bar that night, according to court records.

Walker wrote that Ross' constitutional rights would have been violated if the inmates reported the statements "pursuant to an implied understanding with the district attorney" or police. He ruled, however, they came forth voluntarily and there was no arrangement with authorities.

"Anytime you have a jailhouse informant, those statements are subject to impeachment and a jury is entitled to know the full circumstances surrounding them," said defense co-counsel David R. Yoder.

The credibility of the inmates and statements can be challenged at trial, he said.

The defense also wanted to suppress statements Ross allegedly made to police after his arrest, as well as witness identifications of a jacket he was reportedly wearing that was later found in a vacant lot near the suspected murder weapon.

Walker ruled that they were admissible because Yoder and co-counsel Thomas S. Diehl did not address those issues in their briefs to the court.

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