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Hammersla guilty

Jury returns verdict in an hour

Jury returns verdict in an hour

July 02, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

After deliberating for an hour, a Washington County Circuit jury on Thursday found Jack L. Hammersla Jr. guilty of first-degree murder in the bludgeoning death of Shirley Finfrock in November 2003.

Hammersla, 46, of no fixed address, was indicted in January in the Nov. 12, 2003, death of 68-year-old Finfrock at her 22128 Holiday Drive home near Smithsburg.

The jury of six women and six men returned guilty verdicts on charges of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, burglary, theft, robbery and malicious destruction of property.

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Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison requested a poll of the jury and each member said "yes" when asked if he or she agreed with the verdict.

Hammersla, who shifted his emotionless gaze from papers on the defense table to the area of the jury as the verdicts were read, will be held at the Washington County Detention Center pending the completion of a pre-sentence investigation that will focus primarily on his criminal record.

As the verdict was being read, police investigators, detectives, prosecutors and defense attorneys sat scattered in the courtroom while the Finfrock family sat together.

After court was adjourned, Finfrock's son, Alan Finfrock, walked to the back of the courtroom crying and brought his hands, clasping a baseball cap, to his face. Relatives circled around him.

Finfrock's daughter, Joan Sprout, holding back tears, said of the verdict, "Thank you."

No other family members commented, including Finfrock's husband, Edwyn Finfrock, who stood up after the adjournment with a frown on his face.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Steven Kessell, in his closing argument, told jurors that on the morning of Nov. 12, 2003, Hammersla was walking along railroad tracks in Smithsburg and saw Shirley Finfrock's home, which had rear doors and no fence, and saw "an easy target."

Planning "to steal property in there," Hammersla grabbed a 2-by-6 board from a wood pile and used it to break open a window to a rear door leading into Finfrock's kitchen, Kessell said.

"You bust the window, you leave the 2-by-6 outside," he said. But Hammersla kept the board "just in case," Kessell said. "And 'just in case' happened."

Finfrock, who Kessell described as "a large person," was in bed when Hammersla, a small man, went into her room. "He could have easily hightailed it out of there," Kessell said. "He made the decision to then and there kill Mrs. Finfrock."

Standing before the jury, Kessell, while counting out the blows, took a long, thin pointer and smacked it hard on a lectern six times. "This is just a thin pointer. Imagine being struck six times by a 2-by-6," he said.

There were defensive wounds on Finfrock, Kessell said, and he asked the jury to imagine the woman trying to fend off the attack. Hammersla, Kessell contended, had enough time after each blow to think about stopping his assault.

He reminded jurors of testimony that Finfrock's blood was found on the jacket Hammersla was wearing when he was taken into police custody.

Kessell called the defense approach during cross-examination of witnesses "smoke and mirrors." He gave as an example testimony about the cause of death by state assistant medical examiner, Dr. Tasha Greenberg, who was questioned extensively about her qualifications and conclusions by the defense.

In her closing argument, Deputy Public Defender Mary Riley told the jurors that she took issue with Greenberg's conflicting testimony, which went from Finfrock being hit three times to possibly six times.

Riley told the jury that the case is emotional, but that "you have to check your emotions at the door" and decide whether the prosecution proved to them beyond a reasonable doubt that Hammersla was guilty.

"Reasonable doubt - reason to doubt," she repeated throughout her closing argument.

"There is no motive. There's no evidence whatsoever that he had a motive to kill Mrs. Finfrock," she said.

Riley said that Hammersla, who worked at odd jobs, left his father's West Water Street home that morning wearing a sweatshirt. He was last seen by his father hitchhiking down the road, she said. "There's no evidence that Jack Hammersla needed money, and that's a problem," she said.

She said "no items of value were stolen from the house."

Sprout testified Wednesday that she couldn't find a mother's ring and an engagement ring of her mother's while taking inventory of the house.

A pawn broker testified Wednesday that Hammersla sold those items, and a gold bracelet, to his store for $15.

Riley told the jurors to consider Hammersla's small stature: "You have to consider whether this could have been done by this little man with this little board."

She said that people who saw a man fitting Hammersla's description walking along the railroad tracks that morning lived in the Smithsburg area and took a personal interest in the case.

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