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Bail set in 1985 murder case

August 31, 2000

Bail set in 1985 murder case



By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - While the admissibility of some key prosecution evidence is being challenged by the defense, a Hagerstown, Md., man charged this year in the disappearance of a Pennsylvania man 15 years ago was granted bond Thursday by a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge.

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Judge John R. Walker also moved the first-degree murder case against Ronald W. Harshman from the September trial term to January 2001, according to the order filed with the Clerk of Courts Office.

Defense attorney David S. Keller said Thursday Harshman, 51, of 11807 Clearview Road, likely would be released today on the $100,000 bond set by Walker.

The judge's order did not address two other issues raised in a pre-trial motion filed earlier this month by Keller, including questions about a shell casing found May 25, 1985, when Melvin E. Snyder, of 12850 Grant Shook Road, Greencastle, Pa., disappeared from his home.

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At Harshman's May 10 preliminary hearing, Rhonda Hykes testified she found the spent .25-caliber shell casing in the Snyder's barn when she was asked by his family to help look for him the day he disappeared.

Hykes testified she gave the casing to her husband, who then gave it to someone in Snyder's house.

At the preliminary hearing, police testified another .25-caliber shell casing ballistically matching the one found in Snyder's barn was found in 1999, outside the Antrim Township home where Harshman lived in 1985.

According to the pre-trial motion, however, Melvin Snyder's wife, now Joan Snyder Hall, told Pennsylvania State Police during interviews on May 30 and June 17, 1985, that she found the shell casing.

"I thought it might have been used in the abduction of my husband," she said in the May 30 interview, according to court records.

Eight years later, Hall told another trooper she found two spent casings in the barn and her son found a spent bullet in the barn wall. She told police in a June 6, 1993, interview that only one casing was turned over to police, court records said.

In June of this year, Paul Clopper, another person who searched the barn in 1985 for signs of Melvin Snyder, was interviewed by state police, the pre-trial motion said. Clopper told police he found a shell casing lying on straw in the barn on May 28 and gave it to Hall.

Keller asked in the pre-trial motion the shell be ruled inadmissible as evidence because "information is contradictory as to who is said to have found the shell casing."

Keller also wants statements Hall made to police implicating Harshman in her husband's disappearance also to be ruled inadmissible.

Hall, 56, was charged with criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy in connection with her husband's disappearance on April 11, the same day Harshman was charged with Snyder's disappearance.

Some of Hall's statements date back several years and were recorded by police, but Keller said Thursday they should not be used unless she agrees to testify against Harshman. He said his client has a constitutional right to confront his accusers.

Since Hall is charged with the same crime, she cannot be compelled to make statements in court that could incriminate her, he said. If she does not testify, the prosecution "should not be able to put in a tape recorded statement" at trial, he said.

"As of now the commonwealth acknowledges it has serious problems with the admission of either of those pieces of evidence," Keller said of the Hall's statements and the 1985 shell casing.

Hall's case also was scheduled to be heard in the September trial term, but she was granted a continuance to November on Monday, court records said. Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said Thursday he intends to try Hall in November.

She was released on $100,000 bond within days of her arrest, but Harshman was denied bond on May 17 by Judge Douglas W. Herman.

Under Pennsylvania law defendants can be denied bond if a conviction on the charges they face can result in a life sentence or the death penalty on conviction.

In setting bond, Walker's order noted prosecutors still intend to seek a first-degree murder conviction, but agreed "for purposes of bail only, the facts established do not rise above murder in the third degree."

Nelson said he made the stipulation on bail in return for Keller agreeing to go along with his request to continue the case until January. "Mr. Keller and myself both acknowledged the case was not ready to be tried in September," he said.

As to the admissibility of the evidence, Nelson said Keller "has legitimate issues, but the judge determined they were issues that had to be determined at trial or much closer to trial."

Harshman was scheduled for a pre-trial hearing Tuesday, but it was not held after Keller and Nelson met in chambers with Walker.

At Harshman's preliminary hearing witnesses testified that his former wife began an affair with Melvin Snyder in May 1984 and that Harshman fired two shots at Snyder when he learned of the affair two weeks later.

It was a year later that Melvin Snyder disappeared. No body or murder weapon has ever been found, according to court records.

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