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Victim's relatives see killer sentenced

May 20, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Many of Joanna R. Plummer's relatives were in Franklin County Court on Wednesday to see her estranged husband sentenced to state prison for her fatal shooting and, in a way, so was the victim herself.

Plummer's mother, Jane Plummer of Hagerstown, carried some of her daughter's ashes into the courtroom where Judge John R. Walker sentenced Bruce B. Forsythe Sr. to 15 to 30 years in prison for third-degree murder.

"This was the only way I could have her here," Jane Plummer said after the sentencing.

She said her daughter's ashes had been divided and taken to several places and the ashes she carried Wednesday are destined for a family vacation home in Maine.

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Forsythe, 55, of 6283 Molly Pitcher Highway, Marion, Pa., was charged with criminal homicide and aggravated assault in the Nov. 24, 2002, shooting of Plummer, 32, whom he married in 1996. Wednesday he pleaded no contest to third-degree murder and received a sentence previously agreed to by Franklin County Assistant District Attorney David Rahauser and defense attorney David S. Keller.

"Everything in homicide turns on the mental intent of the killer," Rahauser said. He described third-degree murder as a "malicious killing," but without the premeditation necessary for a first-degree conviction.

Plummer had gone to Forsythe's house that Sunday to retrieve personal belongings, according to court records. She and Forsythe drove to an ice cream shop, but left without buying anything, Rahauser said.

When they returned, there was an argument and Forsythe assaulted her, according to Pennsylvania State Police. He then went into his home, came out with a pistol and shot Plummer in the back of the head and chest, police said.

Forsythe then called 911 and told the dispatcher he shot her, police said.

Plummer, who was living in Hagerstown, had received a protection from abuse order in Franklin County a few weeks before her death. In it, she stated Forsythe physically abused her and tried to run her off the road when she was in a vehicle with another person, court records say.

Rahauser last year filed a notice of aggravating circumstances, which could have allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty. He said, however, he felt third-degree murder fit the circumstances of the crime.

Had the case gone to trial, Rahauser said the defense could have used a voluntary manslaughter defense, asserting that the killing was the result of "sudden, intense passion."

"We'll never see her bright dimpled smile," cousin Mary Muzzi of Wilmington, Del., said in a statement to the court. "We are all victims of this man's violence."

"I shared my whole life with my sister. Now, there is just a void," sister Jacki Plummer-Sprow of Fayetteville, Pa., told Walker.

"Joanna was a responsible and productive sister," sister Jenny Plummer-Welker of Bowie, Md., said. She had a master's degree in geoenvironmental studies and worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

"It turned out I had a lot to do in a short time," said Jane Plummer, reading a statement written from her late daughter's perspective. It recalled family vacations in Maine, Pennsylvania and Germany; her youth in Hagerstown; working for her father's construction company during summer vacations; and her desire "to start my own construction company."

"He played judge, jury and executioner," Jane Plummer said, speaking for herself. She called Forsythe a "jealous, controlling man."

Unlike other members of the family, Jane Plummer said she had not consented to the plea agreement. She said she or someone from the family will attend every hearing when he becomes eligible for parole in 2017.

A no-contest plea carries the same legal weight as a guilty plea, but the defendant does not have to make a statement of guilt, Walker told Forsythe, who received 541 days credit for time already served. Walker ordered him to pay $3,500 to Plummer's family for her funeral expenses.

Forsythe was silent except for short answers to procedural questions relating to the plea agreement.

"I just want you to know the Plummer family, unless you're drawn and quartered on the square, will not be satisfied," Walker told Forsythe.

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