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Man may get new trial in 1984 slaying

August 29, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A man convicted of second-degree murder 19 years ago was back in Franklin County Prison Thursday waiting to see whether he will stand trial again after an appeals court overturned his conviction.

George Wallace Stanford Jr., 46, formerly of Chambersburg, has been serving a life sentence for the Feb. 7, 1984, stabbing death of Jeffrey Crisswell Beatty at Beatty's mobile home on Timber Lane in Peters Township, Pa. He also received an additional five to 10 years on a criminal conspiracy charge.

Second-degree murder is the commission of a homicide during the course of another felony, according to state law.

In February, a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned the conviction and vacated the sentence in a split decision. The court ruled that the trial judge in Stanford's case erred in allowing the jury to take a transcript of one witness' preliminary hearing testimony into the jury deliberation room.

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While introduced as evidence at the trial, state law prohibits such documents from being available to a jury during deliberations, according to the court ruling.

The preliminary hearing testimony was from Robert Grover Wright of Hagerstown, an alleged accomplice of Stanford who agreed to testify for the prosecution. Wright, however, was killed in a motorcycle accident before Stanford went to trial.

According to court records, Stanford and Wright allegedly went to Beatty's home to steal cash and cocaine. Stanford allegedly assaulted Beatty with a hammer and knife during the incident.

Another person charged in the case, Mary Ann Wietry of Chambersburg, pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal conspiracy to commit theft and was sentenced in 1985 to four to 23 months in county prison.

Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said Stanford was returned to the county from state prison while the outcome of the case is determined. In April, the superior court denied Nelson's petition for reargument of the appeal or reconsideration of the ruling, according to court records.

Nelson said he has petitioned the state Supreme Court for an allowance of appeal of the superior court ruling. That would allow his office to argue before the Supreme Court that the conviction should be upheld.

Nelson said Wednesday he had not heard back from the Supreme Court as to whether his petition has been granted or denied. In the meantime, Stanford's case remains in legal limbo.

Stanford's attorney, David Wertime, could not be reached Thursday.

After 19 years, Nelson noted that a number of those people involved in the investigation are now likely either retired, deceased or otherwise unavailable if the case goes to trial.

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