Pa. man pleads in '84 homicide

September 03, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - A man sentenced to life in prison for a 1984 murder may be free in less than three years after he pleaded no contest to third-degree murder Wednesday in Franklin County Court.

George Wallace Stanford Jr., 47, formerly of Chambersburg, was convicted of second-degree murder and criminal conspiracy to commit robbery in the Feb. 7, 1984, stabbing death of Jeffrey Crisswell Beatty at Beatty's Peters Township, Pa., home. He was sentenced to life in prison plus another 10 years on the criminal conspiracy charge, according to court records.

In February 2003, a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned the conviction, according to court records.

On Wednesday, Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson and Stanford's attorney, David Wertime, presented the proposed plea agreement to Judge John R. Walker. Along with the third-degree murder charge, Stanford also pleaded no contest to criminal conspiracy to commit theft, a first-degree misdemeanor.


Because Beatty's murder occurred 20 years ago, Stanford's sentence will fall under the old statute for third-degree murder, which had a maximum sentence of 20 years. The maximum sentence since has been increased to 40 years.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Stanford would be on five years probation after the third-degree murder sentence is served. Stanford would receive credit for time served from Feb. 15-16, 1984, and from Dec. 4, 1986, to the date of his sentencing, according to the agreement.

Stanford did not receive credit for time served between February 1984 and December 1986 because he was serving time for a state parole violation, Walker said.

The judge ordered a presentence investigation and set sentencing for Wednesday, Oct. 20.

"It's a tentative plea agreement," Walker said. He said the presentence report will determine whether he signs off on the agreement next month.

"I look at how a guy has done in prison. That show's me whether he's matured or not," Walker said.

If he accepts the plea, Walker said the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole will determine whether Stanford is released before the entire 20-year sentence is served.

Nelson and Wertime could not be reached for comment Thursday. After the conviction was overturned last year, Nelson said that preparing a new trial would be difficult because a number of those involved in the case are dead, retired or otherwise unavailable.

One element of the superior court's ruling had to do with the testimony of a witness who died before Stanford went to trial. Robert Grover Wright of Hagerstown was Stanford's alleged accomplice in Beatty's killing and agreed to testify for the prosecution, but he died in a motorcycle accident before the case went to trial, according to court records.

Beatty had, however, testified at Stanford's preliminary hearing and a transcript of the testimony was used in the trial. The judge in the case allowed the jury to have the transcript during deliberations, the superior court ruling stated.

While introduced as evidence at the trial, state law prohibits such documents from being available to a jury during deliberations, according to the court ruling.

Court records allege that Stanford and Wright went to Beatty's home to steal cash and cocaine and Stanford assaulted Beatty with a hammer and knife.

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