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Pa. conspiracy charge dropped

May 10, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A criminal conspiracy charge against Ronald W. Harshman was dismissed Wednesday, but he will wait a week to find out if a criminal homicide charge stemming from the 1985 disappearance of a Greencastle, Pa., man will be bound over for court.

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Harshman, 51, of 11807 Clearview Road, Hagerstown, has been held without bond since April 11, when Pennsylvania State Police charged him in the death of 42-year-old Melvin E. Snyder on May 25, 1985.

Snyder's truck was found near Baltimore two days later, but his body was never found. He was declared legally dead in 1993, according to court records.

"We weren't able to present the testimony we anticipated" regarding the criminal conspiracy charge, Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said after the 3 1/2 hour preliminary hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Douglas W. Herman. Nelson would not comment on why the testimony was not introduced.

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Snyder's widow, Joan Snyder Hall, who also was charged with criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy, did not testify. In the affidavit filed when she and Harshman were charged, police alleged she admitted six years ago to aiding Harshman in 1985 by telling him when her husband could be found alone and unarmed.

The affidavit alleged Hall told police she saw her husband's body in Harshman's basement a day after he disappeared. Hall was not in the courtroom, but her attorneys were there taking notes.

Police allege Snyder's death was prompted by an affair he had with Harshman's wife.

"The intimate part of it began on May 26, 1984," Teresa Harshman Young testified about the affair. On June 7 she told Harshman she and Snyder were leaving for Montana and Harshman left the house in her car.

Retired state trooper Donald Paul testified he was at the scene of an accident later that day in which Harshman had run the car into Snyder's pickup. Paul said Harshman had fired two shots into the pickup but missed Snyder.

Court records said Harshman was charged with recklessly endangering another person and placed on probation for the shooting.

Young and Snyder went to Montana, but returned three weeks later and reconciled with their spouses. "We decided to go off to Montana because we were afraid," Young testified during cross examination by Harshman's attorney David S. Keller. Young said she and Snyder did not return to Pennsylvania together.

She said she separated from Harshman again in March 1985 and they were divorced later that year.

The prosecution introduced records showing Harshman bought a .25-caliber handgun and ammunition at a Greencastle hardware store in March 1985. The gun has never been found, according to police.

Daisy Hykes of Greencastle testified she saw a two-tone brown pickup truck near Snyder's barn on May 25, 1985. Hykes, who knew Snyder's son, said that later that day she saw a similar pickup parked at a home on Buchanan Trail West where Harshman lived at the time.

Harshman owned a two-tone brown pickup in 1985, according to Trooper Daren Hockenberry.

That same day Hykes said she was at Snyder's home helping relatives look for him when she found a .25-caliber shell casing in a barn.

Hockenberry testified that another shell casing was found in July 1999 at Harshman's former home and a police ballistics expert determined it was fired from the same gun as the shell found in Snyder's barn.

Keller said it was four days before the first shell was turned over to police and eight years before it and other live shells taken from Harshman's home were tested.

The hearing was recessed until Wednesday, May 17, to give Keller time to file written arguments. Herman will also consider a bail petition from Keller at that time.

Hall was released two weeks ago on $100,000 bond and is awaiting a preliminary hearing.

Preliminary hearings are usually held before district justices, but the prosecution and defense had agreed to combine the hearing with the bond petition before Herman.

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