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Verdict same in second trial

September 18, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Twenty-three years after a St. Thomas, Pa., man was convicted of killing a friend and dumping his body down a well, a Franklin County judge again found Larry Gene Hull guilty of murder.

Judge Richard Walsh issued a 32-page opinion and guilty verdict Monday and ordered Hull, 54, to appear for sentencing Oct. 30.

Lloyd Shatzer, of St. Thomas, was fatally shot on Feb. 25, 1975.

In August 1999, Hull was granted a new trial 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.

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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 his adolescence.

Walsh recessed the brief trial to review volumes of materials, including transcripts from the May 1975 preliminary hearing and August 1979 degree of guilt hearing, which the prosecution submitted to make its case.

He could have found Hull not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty of first-degree murder or guilty of third-degree murder.

In his written opinion, Walsh said: "The defendant was competent to stand trial, and he has conceded that he is the one who shot Shatzer. Because the Commonwealth has established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was not legally insane, and because the Commonwealth has likewise disproved, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant's claim of diminished capacity, we find the defendant guilty of murder of the first degree in the death of Lloyd Shatzer."

Franklin County District Attorney Jack Nelson, who also prosecuted Hull in 1979, said he was pleased with the verdict.

"After investing all this time in the case, I am pleased the original verdict remained undisturbed," he said.

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 December trial.

In August 1979, Hull pleaded guilty to the murder. A degree of guilt hearing followed, and a Franklin County judge found Hull guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

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 has said he was drinking heavily and blacked out before shooting Shatzer twice in the chest with a .22-caliber rifle, according to court records.

Defense attorney Jim Reed said during closing arguments in June there was no question that Hull committed the murder, but he said Hull's lengthy history of psychiatric disorder was reason for the court to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Nelson said Hull did intend to kill Shatzer and knew what he was doing was wrong. He said Hull told Shatzer that he brought him to his home to kill him, went upstairs to get a rifle and then shot him twice in the kitchen before hiding his body in a well.

Walsh wrote that testimony from a psychiatrist in the first trial supported his conclusion that alcohol, medication and mental illness may have lowered Hull's inhibitions and affected his ability to think clearly, but that did not dictate the finding of insanity.

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