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Scientist describes evidence in slaying

October 04, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - For about three hours Tuesday, a forensic scientist told jurors about blood spatter, strange rocks and one usable fingerprint found in the investigation of Shirley P. Finfrock's bludgeoning death.

During the second day of testimony in Jack L. Hammersla Jr.'s second trial on charges that he killed Finfrock, Western Maryland Regional Crime Lab Supervisory Forensic Scientist Jeffrey C. Kercheval told jurors the woman was lying on the left side of her bed when the perpetrator - who swung a weapon consistent with a bloodied 2-by-6 found in her living room - stood at her bedside.

Hammersla, 49, faces a charge of first-degree premeditated murder and two first-degree felony murder charges, one arising out of a first-degree burglary and one arising out of a third-degree burglary, in Finfrock's Nov. 12, 2003, death at her 22128 Holiday Drive home in Smithsburg.

Prosecutors intend to seek a life sentence without the possibility of parole if Hammersla is convicted of any first-degree murder counts, according to court records.

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Hammersla was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 2004, but the conviction and sentence were overturned in February by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

The appellate court ordered a new trial, saying that witness testimony about stolen jewelry during Hammersla's July 2004 trial should not have been admitted. The court said information leading to the discovery of pawn slips for that jewelry came from a jailhouse snitch, whose statements were inadmissible.

On Tuesday, Kercheval told jurors that Finfrock was killed between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Initially, Kercheval believed Finfrock's husband, Edwyn Finfrock, killed his wife, but Kercheval told jurors that after he examined Finfrock's dirty, but not bloodied, watch and eyeglasses, he realized police needed to look elsewhere.

Dr. Tasha Zemrus Greenberg, assistant medical examiner with the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, testified that Finfrock's autopsy showed the 68-year-old woman was struck "at least three times." Blows that caused a four-inch gash to her forehead and a large bruise and hinge fracture to the side of her head could have been the fatal blows, Greenberg said.

After Greenberg was presented with the 2-by-6 wooden board, she said the plank "certainly could have been" the weapon used to strike Finfrock.

A black-and-white autopsy photograph of Finfrock's head was shown to the jury. Each juror either glanced at the picture or studied it. One male juror exchanged long glances between the photograph and Hammersla before passing it on.

Kercheval testified that investigators looked for fingerprints in the Finfrock's "unkempt" home and sent six samples out to be checked, but only one sample came back usable - a print for Edwyn Finfrock found on an office filing cabinet.

"On television, they always get the latent print. In real life, we sometimes get the latent print," he testified, after explaining the conditions needed to pull a viable fingerprint.

Investigators never found answers for a grouping of rocks found on the edge of Finfrock's bed and a group of rocks found next to Finfrock's purse and billfold, which were found in a field near her home a few days after her death, he testified. Kercheval testified the rocks are "a big question mark," but he said they "appear to have come from the railroad tracks" near the Finfrocks' home.

A red knit cap also was found near the purse and billfold, he said.

Witness' description

Christie Phillips, shaken from a recent burglary at her home, jotted down the description of a man she saw stumble off railroad tracks near her Chewsville home Nov. 12, but thought nothing of it until she got word police were searching the tracks after she left for work at about 9 a.m.

"He kept looking over his shoulders - both shoulders - like someone was watching him," Phillips testified Tuesday.

Phillips gave a police sketch artist a description of the man she saw - "brownish-gray, semi-curled hair," slightly balding, wrinkles, high cheekbones, sunken eyes, black sneakers, a plaid jacket and baggy jeans.

Police got a call from a woman at Snow White Grill in Hagerstown on Nov. 15 who said she saw a man outside matching the sketch artist's drawing that ran in The Herald-Mail that morning, former Hagerstown Police Department Officer Korey Hinkle testified.

Hinkle photocopied the drawing, wrote down the description and drove to Public Square, where he found a man - later identified as Hammersla - walking in the unit block of South Potomac Street, he testified.

Hinkle testified he took pictures and questioned Hammersla, who told him he was homeless. Hammersla knew he was being stopped because he matched a police description for a "person of interest" and said "he had nothing better to do" and could talk to police.

The trial is to resume today at 9 a.m. with more prosecution witnesses. The trial is scheduled to last through Friday.

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