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Pa. homicide cases delayed

The Franklin County District Attorney's office may seek the death penalty against man accused of shootinghis estranged wife.

The Franklin County District Attorney's office may seek the death penalty against man accused of shootinghis estranged wife.

May 05, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Two pending homicide cases in Franklin County Court were granted continuances last week, another is likely to be continued and prosecutors took steps to seek the death penalty in a fourth.

Bruce Bernard Forsythe Sr., 53, of 6283 Molly Pitcher Highway, Marion, was arraigned last Wednesday on a charge of first-degree homicide in the Nov. 24 shooting death of his estranged wife, 32-year-old Joanna Plummer. He entered a written plea of not guilty and his case was scheduled for the July trial term.

The next day, Assistant District Attorney David W. Rahauser filed a notice of aggravating circumstances in the case, a step necessary to seek the death penalty in Pennsylvania. The aggravating circumstance was that Plummer had been granted a protection from abuse order about two weeks before her death.

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Under Pennsylvania law, however, the notice is supposed to be filed by the time of mandatory arraignment.

"I do intend to file a motion to strike it as untimely filed," Forsythe's attorney, David S. Keller, said Tuesday.

"I don't think this is a first-degree murder case, let alone a capital case," Keller said. Forsythe's alleged actions did not show evidence of premeditation or malice, two elements that have to be shown to prove first-degree murder, Keller said.

"It's just a terribly sad and tragic situation," he said.

Pennsylvania State Police allege Forsythe shot Plummer in the back of the head and chest outside his home. Police later filed an additional charge of aggravated assault against Forsythe as a result of the autopsy report that showed Plummer suffered an open wound over one eye prior to her death.

In her application for the protection from abuse order, Plummer wrote that Forsythe had physically abused her on several occasions and had tried to run her and a friend off the road less than a month before the shooting, according to court records.

Forsythe was under a court order not to have contact with Plummer, although she was allowed to go to their former residence to collect her belongings. Plummer drove to Forsythe's house that day and, according to both Rahauser and Keller, they left together at one point.

When they returned, however, police allege Forsythe and Plummer got into an argument that turned violent. Police allege he retrieved a handgun from his house and shot her.

Two homicide cases on the list were continued to July.

Michael Wayne McCormick, 54, of 522 Vinell Lane, Chambersburg, was charged in 1998 with the March 28, 1979, shooting of Allen Bennett Cosey.

Cosey was found dead in his Waynesboro, Pa., apartment, shot in the chest with a Civil War replica black powder pistol that he owned. McCormick reported finding the body to police.

His death was classified a suicide for 19 years until Cosey's widow, Vicki Lemmon of Chambersburg, confided her suspicions about McCormick to her psychiatrist. Pennsylvania State Police later reopened the case and McCormick was charged with his friend's death.

The case was later dismissed by Franklin County Judge Richard J. Walsh, who found that the 19-year delay between Cosey's death and McCormick being charged was prejudicial to his defense. Walsh's ruling was overturned by a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the charge was reinstated.

Defense attorney Eric J. Weisbrod's motion for a continuance noted that there were several pre-trial issues that have yet to be ruled on. Earlier this year, he said those issues included a motion to suppress statement's police allege McCormick made during interviews.

Also granted a continuance was Antonio Barcenas, 22, of Chambersburg. He is charged with criminal homicide in the Jan. 1, 2002, stabbing of Javier Brena-Lugo of Zionsville, Ind. Brena-Lugo was stabbed once in the abdomen in a house at 38 W. Queen St., Chambersburg.

Another homicide case is expected to be continued to at least July and possibly into the fall, according to Public Defender Michael J. Toms.

William Edward Cleary, 29, of Chambersburg is charged with first-degree murder in the July 6, 2002, stabbing death of his estranged wife, Teresa Jean Cleary, 34, of 2208 Lincoln Way East, Fayetteville. She was stabbed multiple times outside her apartment before a number of witnesses.

Toms said he will request a continuance on or before Monday, May 12, when jury selection for May term trials is held. He said more time is needed to prepare Cleary's defense.

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