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Hagerstown man to face trial in disappearance of Pa. man

May 17, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Hagerstown man will stand trial in the 1985 disappearance of Melvin Snyder, Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Douglas W. Herman ruled Wednesday.

Herman found that Ronald Harshman should be bound over for court on a criminal homicide charge.

Harshman will remain in Franklin County Prison without bail, Herman ruled.

"The nature of Mr. Snyder's disappearance provides evidence of his death by criminal agency," Herman said.

A preliminary hearing for Harshman was held last week, but Herman delayed his decision until Wednesday to give defense attorney David S. Keller time to submit written arguments for dismissing the charge.

Snyder disappeared May 25, 1985, and his body has never been found. In April, Pennsylvania State Police filed criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy charges against Harshman, 51, of 11807 Clearview Road, and Snyder's widow, Joan Snyder Hall, 56, of 12850 Grant Shook Road, Greencastle, Pa.

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"I think the case is extremely weak," Keller said after the hearing. He said there have been other missing body homicide cases in Pennsylvania, "but there are none this questionable."

"Motive is relevant to the court," Herman said, noting the prosecution presented testimony that Harshman's wife had an affair with Snyder in May 1984 and that Harshman fired two shots at Snyder a month later.

Last week, Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson also introduced evidence that Harshman bought a handgun in March 1985, two months before Snyder disappeared. The gun has never been found, according to police.

There also was testimony about a ballistic match between a shell casing found in Snyder's barn the day he disappeared and one found outside Harshman's former Antrim Township, Pa., home 14 years later.

Herman said that ballistic evidence pointed to foul play in Snyder's disappearance.

Keller criticized the efforts of police in the days and years after Snyder disappeared. He said police never tried to find Snyder in Baltimore where his truck was found two days after he disappeared, and no effort was made to determine if he'd gone to Montana until nine years after he disappeared.

Snyder and Harshman's former wife had run away to Montana briefly in 1984, according to testimony last week.

The police waited eight years to test cartridges found in Harshman's house against the shell casing found in Snyder's barn, Keller said. He also questioned the discovery of the other shell last year.

"I don't think there was any motive" to kill Snyder in 1985, Keller said. "There was a motive in 1984 and he acted on it immediately" by firing at him, Keller said.

By the following year the Harshmans had separated and were dating other people, he said.

Last week Nelson asked that the criminal conspiracy charge against Harshman be withdrawn because anticipated evidence was unavailable.

Herman denied bond to Harshman because he faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

Hall was released on $100,000 bond last month after Nelson stipulated that his office was unlikely to seek a conviction against her resulting in a life sentence. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday, May 22, before District Justice Shirley Shatzer.

According to the affidavit filed in her case, police allege Hall admitted in a 1994 interview to advising Harshman when her husband would be alone and unarmed. She also told police she later saw his body in Harshman's home, the affidavit said.

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