Testimony begins in slaying trial

June 29, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - A frown on his face, Edwyn L. Finfrock Sr. testified Monday in Washington County Circuit Court about arriving at his home with a gallon of milk on the morning of Nov. 12, 2003, and finding his wife's bloodied body on their bedroom floor.

Finfrock was among five prosecution witnesses who testified Monday during the first day of a scheduled five-day murder trial in a case against Jack L. Hammersla Jr.

Hammersla, 46, of no fixed address, was charged in a January indictment in the death of Shirley Finfrock. He is charged with first- and second-degree murder, first-degree felony murder-robbery and other charges in the Nov. 12 bludgeoning death of 68-year-old Shirley Finfrock in her 22128 Holiday Drive home near Smithsburg.


Deputy Public Defender Mary Riley entered a not guilty plea on his behalf on Jan. 14.

A jury was selected Monday morning, after which attorneys for the state and the defense made opening statements.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Steven Kessell, in his opening statement, said Edwyn Finfrock left his house for his part-time job at Weis Markets on Nov. 12, 2003, at 7 a.m. and Hammersla began his day by leaving his father's home.

Hammersla "began a journey that morning - a journey that caused his life to intersect with the lives" of the Finfrocks, Kessell said.

Walking along the CSX railroad tracks, Hammersla came upon the Finfrocks' home: A house with a rear door facing the tracks and a house that did not have a fence protecting it, Kessell said. Hammersla found a 2-by-6 wooden board outside, broke into the house and used the board "to bludgeon (Shirley Finfrock) in the head," he contended.

'No seamless case'

Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison, who is defending Hammersla along with Riley, said in his opening statement that there is no doubt that Shirley Finfrock was killed in "a brutal, very hot-blooded assault." But he told the jury, "This is no seamless case."

Hutchison told jurors to use their common sense to separate their own theories from those supplied by the prosecution. The evidence against his client, he said, "is lacking."

"A lot of it doesn't lead anywhere and some of it leads to other people," he said.

Dr. Tasha Greenberg, assistant medical examiner in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, testified Monday that Finfrock was hit "a minimum of three times," possibly about six times, with a blunt object, which caused cuts and bruises to her face and multiple fractures to her skull. She said wounds found on Finfrock's fingers, arms and legs were "defensive-type injuries."

Shirley Finfrock's husband, 71-year-old Edwyn Finfrock, testified that he got home from work that day at 11:20 a.m. and brought home a gallon of milk. He said he called out to his wife, but she didn't respond.

Finfrock went to their bedroom after seeing a light in that area and found his wife lying bloodied on the floor. He called for help, then sat in a chair and waited for police and ambulance personnel to arrive.

Finfrock said he noticed that the police monitor and refrigerator in the kitchen had been unplugged and he saw a "piece of wood" in the living room.

Hutchison, during cross-examination, asked Finfrock if he fought with his wife the night before her death.

Finfrock, who rested his head on his left hand, said he had a "disagreement" with his wife a couple of nights before. Hutchison asked if it was a "fairly heated argument" and Finfrock replied "fairly."

Maryland State Police Trooper Brian Smith, of the Frederick barrack, who was not yet on duty that morning but responded first to the scene, said the Finfrock home was about a fourth of a mile from his house.

He testified that when he checked out the house, he found that a window panel had been broken out of a rear door and he saw glass on the kitchen floor.

He said, during cross-examination, that Edwyn Finfrock's demeanor "was calm" while they waited about 20 minutes for other officers to arrive.

Search with bloodhound

Maryland State Police Sgt. Eric Fogle, who handles 3-year-old police bloodhound "Christopher," testified that the dog followed "a human scent" for a couple of miles west along the railroad tracks from an area near the railroad tracks behind the Finfrock home.

Fogle said that along the way, he noticed muddy sneaker prints on railroad ties and gravel that had been displaced, but stopped the bloodhound's trace around Chewsville, where the tracks intersected with asphalt. He said he could not identify the tread on a pair of black sneakers, marked as a state's exhibit, as the sneaker tread he saw that day.

Washington County Sheriff's Department Investigator Greg Alton testified that on his way to the crime scene, he saw a man who was wearing a "multi-colored" flannel shirt jacket walking on the shoulder of Md. 64.

Alton said he later discovered that the man matched the description of a "person of interest" in the case.

Alton identified a blue plaid flannel shirt jacket taken from an evidence bag as the jacket he saw the man wearing that morning.

Riley, on cross-examination, asked why Alton wasn't initially more clear about the color of the jacket and he replied by saying that multi-colored was "just the way I described the shirt."

Riley asked him whether he was sure "this person of no special significance" at the time, and whom he saw for only "a matter of seconds," was Hammersla. Alton said yes.

A jury of six women and six men and one alternate were selected from a pool of 66 prospective jurors Monday. The trial is being presided over by Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III.

The trial is to continue today at 9 a.m.

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