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Judge to review new testimony before ruling on Hull retrial

December 27, 2001

Judge to review new testimony before ruling on Hull retrial



Chambersburg, Pa.

By STACEY DANZUSO
chbbureau@innernet.net


The new trial for a Franklin County man convicted of killing a man and dumping his body down a well in 1975 ended Monday after testimony of only one witness.

Larry Gene Hull, 54, formerly of St. Thomas, Pa., pleaded guilty in August 1979 to the Feb. 25, 1975, murder of Lloyd Shatzer of St. Thomas.

In a degree of guilt hearing that followed, a Franklin County judge found Hull guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

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At Monday's trial, Judge Richard Walsh heard the testimony, but decided to review court documents and make a ruling at a later date.

According to court records, Hull and Shatzer were allegedly involved in a drunken argument around 9:15 p.m., possibly over Shatzer attacking Hull's dog with a pipe. Hull has said he was drinking heavily and blacked out just before shooting Shatzer twice in the chest with a .22-caliber rifle,

Hull was found mentally incompetent shortly after his 1975 arrest, and spent much of the time between then and his 1979 competency hearing in a state mental hospital, according to testimony.

In August 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District overturned the conviction, saying Hull had ineffective counsel at the competency hearing.

The appeals court ruled Hull's attorney did not adequately challenge a prosecution expert who said Hull was competent to stand trial.

A Camp Hill, Pa., psychiatrist who examined Hull in May determined he was competent for a new trial. Hull was in the courtroom Monday dressed in a Franklin County Prison orange jumpsuit. He did not testify.

Dr. David G. Petkash, a forensic psychologist and medical director for mental health at Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill, testified Monday that Hull had a history of mental illness dating back to his adolescence.

He said that based on his medical evaluation of Hull and the records of the doctors who examined him in the 1970s, Hull should not have been allowed to stand trial in 1979.

Petkash said Hull was suffering from a mood disorder with psychotic dimensions, alcohol abuse and borderline intellectual functioning. Hull scored only a point above the cutoff for mental retardation on an IQ test around the time of the murder.

"With those three factors interfacing together, I do not feel he could appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions," he said.

Petkash said Hull had recurring dreams of people coming to get him, and he had to protect himself.

He said he believed Hull was experiencing a psychotic episode the day of the murder.

"Mr. Hull felt his family was under attack and he himself was in danger. He was in an altered state of mind and did not know what was wrong," Petkash said. "In his own mind he was trying to protect himself."

Franklin County District Attorney Jack Nelson pointed out that testimony from the degree of guilt hearing showed Hull had threatened to kill Shatzer on other occasions, although his family never took him seriously.

The prosecution did not call any witnesses and rested its case after entering transcripts from the March 1975 preliminary hearing and August 1979 degree of guilt hearing, which included the testimony of the psychiatrist who felt Hull was competent to stand trial.

The defense rested its case after Petkash's testimony and entered the doctor's written report into evidence.

Walsh said he will spend several weeks reviewing the transcripts before he hears closing arguments and makes his ruling.

Walsh can find Hull not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty of first-degree murder or guilty of third-degree murder.

Under 1979 sentencing guidelines, if Hull is found guilty of third-degree murder, he will already have served the 20-year maximum sentence, said defense attorney Jim Reed.

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