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Woman charged in 1985 homicide case released on bond

April 20, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Greencastle, Pa., woman charged last week in the 1985 disappearance of her husband was released on $100,000 bond Thursday.

Pennsylvania State Police charged Joan Snyder Hall, 56, of 12850 Grant Shook Road, with criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy in the May 25, 1985, disappearance of Melvin Snyder. Police also charged Ronald W. Harshman, 51, of Hagerstown.

Melvin Snyder's body has never been found.

"In all cases, a defendant is eligible for bail unless the charge is a capital crime or one punishable by life in prison," Franklin County Judge Douglas W. Herman said during Hall's Thursday bond hearing. "The district attorney has indicated at this early point in the prosecution ... that the presumption of a penalty of life in prison is not great."

"The commonwealth agrees at this point ... the presumptive degree of criminal homicide would be third-degree," Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson told Herman.

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Nelson later said the stipulation reached with defense attorney Patrick J. Reading did not preclude the prosecution seeking a first- or second-degree murder conviction at trial.

"Strictly for the purposes of the hearing, we did not introduce evidence that would change that presumption," Nelson said.

A hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., but the two sides reached an agreement on bond after a 50-minute meeting in chambers. No evidence was offered by either side during the hearing.

Conviction on a charge of first-degree murder can carry a penalty of life in prison or death, while second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence, according to Pennsylvania state law. The maximum sentence for third-degree murder is now 40 years, although when Snyder disappeared in 1985, the maximum sentence was 20 years.

Harshman has a bond hearing scheduled for May 5 before Herman, according to the Court Administrator's Office. Both Harshman and Hall are scheduled for preliminary hearings on Monday, May 15, before District Justice Shirley M. Shatzer, Nelson said.

State police allege Melvin Snyder, then 42, was shot and killed in his Antrim Township barn. In the affidavit of probable cause filed April 10, police alleged Hall, formerly Joan Snyder, made incriminating statements in a May 25, 1994, interview.

Hall told police she told Harshman her husband could be found unarmed in the barn the morning he disappeared, according to allegations in the affidavit. Hall told police she saw Snyder's body in Harshman's basement the next day, the affidavit alleged.

Police allege Snyder had an affair with Harshman's former wife that began in May 1984. Exactly one year later, Snyder disappeared and his pickup truck was later found in Baltimore, according to police records.

Last week Redding questioned the strength of the evidence, noting the prosecution has no body and the alleged murder weapon, a .25-caliber pistol Harshman allegedly bought two months before the disappearance, has never been found.

Last year a search of Harshman's former Antrim Township home turned up a shell casing that police allege matches a casing found in Snyder's barn 15 years ago.

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