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Murder trial testimony heard for second day

June 30, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

A "formation of rocks" was found on the bed where Shirley Finfrock was killed Nov. 12, 2003, a forensic scientist testified Tuesday during the second day of Jack L. Hammersla Jr.'s murder trial.

Western Maryland Regional Crime Lab Supervisory Forensic Scientist Jeffrey C. Kercheval was the first of five prosecution witnesses to testify Tuesday.

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

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Deputy Public Defender Mary Riley entered a not guilty plea on Hammersla's behalf on Jan. 14.

In addition to the rocks on the bed, a single rock was found on the bedroom floor near Finfrock's elbow, Kercheval said.

Kercheval said a rock formation similar to the one found on the corner of the bed was discovered one-fifth of a mile from her home near a cornfield where Finfrock's purse, wallet and a knit cap were discovered.

Kercheval said the rocks were similar to those found on the railroad tracks behind Finfrock's home.

"There appears to be a connection between the rocks - the exact significance, I don't know," he said.

After extensive questioning on the stand, Kercheval was deemed an expert in three areas of forensic science.

He testified that Finfrock's body was found on the floor on the left side of her bed, but she was killed on an area on the left side of the bed.

After placing plastic gloves on his hands, Kercheval held a stained 2-by-6 board, which he testified was "consistent" with the type of weapon used to beat Finfrock, and mimicked the way blood had been cast off the weapon onto the ceiling above the bed during the killing.

Kercheval said he placed Finfrock's time of death at about 7 a.m. - give or take 90 minutes - based on her body's stiffened state, the color of her skin when pressure was applied to it, the temperature of her body and the condition of blood found on and around the body.

Kercheval said that skin's color, when pressure is applied to it, will remain "fixed" between eight to 12 hours after death.

On cross-examination, Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison questioned why Kercheval testified in a 1996 murder case that the time frame was eight hours. Kercheval said, reading from that testimony, that he said about eight hours, and that he has gained about 10 years of experience since and science has improved in those years.

He said it is "inappropriate" to put too much weight on one factor he used to determine time of death.

Finfrock's husband, Edwyn Finfrock, testified Monday that he left for work at Weis Markets at 7 a.m. and returned home at 11:20 a.m.

Christie Williams, of the 21000 block of Twin Springs Drive in Chewsville, testified Tuesday that at about 8:50 a.m. on the day of Finfrock's death, she was placing items in her car when she noticed a man stumble onto asphalt from railroad tracks about 50 feet from her front sidewalk.

Williams said she went back into her house to get her daughter, but when she returned to her car, "he was then walking towards me."

Williams, who said her house had been burglarized about two months earlier, testified that she wrote a description of the man immediately after she got into her car and gave the description to police after she heard about a death in the area. She pointed to Hammersla as the man she saw that morning.

Hutchison, on cross-examination, asked Williams if she had been following the case and had seen images of Hammersla through the media since she gave the description. She said not regularly.

On re-direct by Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Steven Kessell, Williams said she had not seen any images of Hammersla before she gave her description to police.

Washington County Sheriff's Department Investigator Kenny Barnhart testified that he distributed a composite sketch made from Williams' description. The sketch of a "person of interest" was given to the media and to other local police departments, he said.

Hagerstown Police Department Officer Korey Hinkle testified that on Nov. 15, he was dispatched to Public Square in Hagerstown because an anonymous caller saw a man who matched the "person of interest" description that had been printed in The Herald-Mail.

Hinkle said Hammersla was the only person matching the description at the square. He said he took pictures of Hammersla that show him wearing a blue flannel shirt jacket.

Sheriff's Department Investigator Cpl. Roy Harsh testified that he went to Public Square and took Hammersla to headquarters for questioning. He said that during an interview he noticed splinters in the web of Hammersla's hand and stains, which he thought might have been blood, on his flannel jacket. He said that the stains later tested positive for blood.

Riley, on cross-examination, asked Harsh whether he treated blood seen on clothes of Finfrock's husband, Edwyn Finfrock, in the same manner. Harsh said Edwyn Finfrock told him he got the blood on the clothes when he checked his wife's vital signs. Harsh said that blood had not been tested.

Harsh said Finfrock had a scrape on his hand that Finfrock said he might have gotten while opening boxes at the store where he worked, Harsh said.

Riley asked Harsh what he did with information from Hammersla which indicated that he found the clothes he was wearing on the square in a garbage can at a Hagerstown laundromat.

Harsh said other investigators looked at the laundromat for a discarded brown pair of pants and a red shirt that Hammersla said he was wearing before he found the outfit, but didn't find them.

The trial is to resume today at 8:30 a.m.

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