Judge to rule on Pa. retrial

Closing arguments are heard in the case of a man who pleaded guilty to a 1975 murder

Closing arguments are heard in the case of a man who pleaded guilty to a 1975 murder

June 25, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - After hearing brief closing arguments Monday, a Franklin County judge will consider the case of a former St. Thomas, Pa., man who pleaded guilty to killing a man and dumping his body down a well in 1975.

Twenty years into his sentence, Larry Gene Hull, 54, was granted a new trial in August 1999, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District overturned his first-degree murder conviction, saying he had ineffective counsel at a 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 new trial was held in December with the testimony of one witness, a defense psychiatrist, who said Hull has a history of mental illness dating back to adolescence.

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

In August 1979, Hull pleaded guilty to the Feb. 25, 1975, murder of Lloyd Shatzer, of St. Thomas. A degree of guilt hearing followed, and a Franklin County judge found Hull guilty of first-degree murder and gave him a life sentence.

Since that sentence was overturned, Hull has been incarcerated in the Franklin County Prison in Chambersburg.

Hull and Shatzer were involved in a drunken argument the night of the murder, possibly over Shatzer attacking Hull's dog with a pipe. Hull said he was drinking heavily and blacked out before shooting Shatzer twice in the chest with a .22-caliber rifle, according to court records.

In his remarks Monday, defense attorney Jim Reed said Judge Richard Walsh should find Hull not guilty, or at the very most, guilty of third-degree murder.

"There is no question whether he committed murder," Reed said. But he said Hull's lengthy history of psychiatric disorder was reason for the court to find him not guilty.

He referenced the defense psychiatrist who testified in December that Hull should not have been allowed to go to trial in 1979, because he was suffering from a mood disorder with psychotic dimensions, alcohol abuse and borderline intellectual functioning.

Franklin County District Attorney Jack Nelson, however, said Hull did in fact intend to kill Shatzer and knew what he was doing was wrong.

"Larry had threatened to shoot Shatzer prior to the day it happened. On the day of the shooting he went upstairs to get a .22-caliber rifle ... In the kitchen he told Shatzer he brought him there to kill him," Nelson said.

Hull shot Shatzer twice before moving his body from the kitchen and hiding it in a well, he said.

"If you don't think what you've done is wrong, there is no reason to hide the body," Nelson said.

Walsh recessed the new trial in December to review volumes of materials, including transcripts form the May 1975 preliminary hearing and August 1979 degree of guilty hearing, the prosecution submitted to make its case.

Walsh called for closing arguments Monday and said he will review the information and make a ruling. He did not indicate how long he would take.

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

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