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Pa. man convicted in shooting seeks release on bond

December 29, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A man who spent nearly five years in state prison before his manslaughter conviction was overturned will have to wait a few more days to find out if he will be released on bond while he awaits a new trial.

Bryant Jefferson, 44, of Harrisburg, Pa., was found guilty Feb. 2, 1999, of voluntary manslaughter in the Oct. 6, 1997, shooting of Charles Green, 22, of Chambersburg. He was sentenced to seven to 20 years in prison, but a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned the conviction earlier this year.

"This wasn't a case where I broke into someone's house, encountered the homeowner and shot them," Jefferson told Franklin County Judge Richard Walsh during last Tuesday's bail hearing. "This is a justification case."

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Jefferson testified in his first trial that he shot Green in self-defense during a confrontation at a West Catherine Street home. The argument had been a continuation of an earlier dispute between Gayle Jones, now Jefferson's wife, and another man who rented a property from Jones, he said at trial.

He testified in 1999 that Green began arguing with one of his companions and then went inside his house. Green came back outside and was walking down the street when he turned and pointed a handgun at him, according to Jefferson's testimony.

Jefferson surrendered to police shortly after the shooting, but a second gun was not found at the scene, according to court records.

The prosecution relied primarily on the testimony of two eyewitnesses who previously were convicted of crimes involving dishonesty or false statements. That information was introduced at trial, but the superior court ruled the jury should have been instructed about how that was relevant in evaluating the credibility of the witnesses.

On Tuesday, Jefferson told Walsh he was out on $175,000 bond for 17 months while awaiting his first trial, which proves he is not a flight risk.

"If I had been convicted of first-degree murder, I would have been incarcerated in a state correctional institution for the rest of my life," he said.

"I think he's got a tremendous track record for appearing" in court, said Eric Weisbrod, Jefferson's present attorney.

Walsh asked Weisbrod and Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson to submit more information about the bond matter to him this week.

In a second trial, Jefferson could not be convicted of an offense any higher than voluntary manslaughter. Weisbrod said a new trial may be scheduled during the January trial term.

Weisbrod said new evidence has been uncovered in the case since Jefferson went to prison.

"He wants to be exonerated," Weisbrod said.

Weisbrod said he wants his client released on unsecured bond, meaning he would not have to post whatever monetary figure was set by the court.

Jefferson, who was a welder, testified he still has about $30,000 in debt from previous attorney fees, appeals and other legal costs.

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