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More charges filed in shooting at vets post

June 22, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- More charges were filed Thursday against a Chambersburg woman previously charged in the June 11 shooting death of a veterans post vice commander, raising the possibility Jonna M. Johnson could face the death penalty, according to Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson.

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Chambersburg police filed two counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault against Johnson, 32, of 405 Philadelphia Ave., at District Justice Gary L. Carter's office.

The affidavit of probable cause alleges Johnson shot two other people at the post, Club Manager Kimberly K. Bigler, 37, and bartender William B. Groff Jr., 36, both of 153 W. Main St., Fayetteville, Pa. Both were taken to Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center.

"It's clear that on its face, these are potential aggravating circumstances," Nelson said Thursday. "However, the case is still under investigation," he said.

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Under Pennsylvania law, a charge of criminal homicide is insufficient to seek the death penalty. Notice of one or more aggravating circumstances listed in the death penalty statute must be filed with the Court of Common Pleas.

In the case of Michael B. Singley, of Chambersburg, awaiting trial in October on two counts of criminal homicide and two counts of attempted homicide, Nelson's office filed such a notice. Those aggravating circumstances include putting others at grave risk of death in the commission of a homicide and killing someone who could have potentially served as a prosecution witness, according to court records.

"Normally we're required to give notice of that at the time of mandatory arraignment," Nelson said.

Johnson's preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday, June 27, at 9:30 a.m. before Carter. If probable cause is found to hold her case for court, a mandatory arraignment date will be set at the hearing

She was charged Sunday June 11 with the death of Robert E. Tucker, 49, of 1024 Warm Spring Road, Lot 90, Chambersburg. He was found dead behind the Veterans of the Vietnam War Post 41, 1571 S. Main St., Chambersburg.

"Bigler said that she was inside the bar area when she was approached by the defendant...Johnson produced a handgun from her waist area, pointed at her and shot at her. Johnson then shot at Groff, who was in the immediate area. Groff was shot in the face," the affidavit of probable cause said.

The criminal complaint filed with the affidavit said Bigler was struck in the arm and head in the shooting, which was reported at 1:49 a.m.

Last week police said Johnson went to police headquarters to report witnessing a shooting. In the meantime, however, Bigler had called the county 911 center, according to a post official.

Johnson was a member of the post and knew the victims, police said.

Bigler was released from Hershey Medical Center on Monday, June 12, and Groff was released the next day, a hospital spokeswoman said last week.

Groff is the widower of Gretchen Groff, who was killed Dec. 20, 1994, in a holdup at the former Higher's store in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. Two Sabillasville, Md., teenagers were convicted of her murder.

Johnson's preliminary hearing had originally be scheduled for Monday, June 19, but was postponed. Her attorney Eric J. Weisbrod said Thursday he expects Tuesday's hearing will be held on schedule.

Police have yet to reveal if they know the motive for the triple shooting, or if anyone else was involved.

Since the death penalty was reinstituted in Pennsylvania in 1978, two men have been sentenced to death in Franklin County, according to court records.

Ronald Henninger's 1978 death sentence for murdering a Waynesboro, Pa., woman was commuted to life when the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional. It was reinstated again two years later and in 1998 Albert E. Reid was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife and stepdaughter.

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