Chemist: Victim's blood was on jacket

October 05, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - Prosecutors rested their murder case Wednesday against Jack L. Hammersla Jr. after a forensic chemist testified that blood found on Hammersla's jacket and on a 2-by-6 board recovered from the crime scene matched the DNA of homicide victim Shirley P. Finfrock.

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 the Nov. 12, 2003, bludgeoning death of the 68-year-old Finfrock.

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

Defense attorneys began their case Wednesday with one witness, a 13-year-old Smithsburg boy who testified that he saw a "guy walking down the street and he looked at me strangely" on the morning of the homicide. The boy was shown a transcript of previous testimony that stated the boy said the man he saw was "crawling around." The boy denied ever saying that.


The defense expects today to call one witness and play a 911 tape recording from Shirley Finfrock's husband, Edwyn Finfrock, who called for help after finding his wife dead at their 22128 Holiday Drive home at about 11:30 a.m.

Washington County Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley, who is presiding over the trial, said he expects the case to go to the jury of six women and six men today.

A jury convicted Hammersla in 2004 of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder. Hammersla was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, but the convictions 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 information from Hammersla after the two became cellmates was suppressed in a pretrial hearing.

The state had no proof it would have known about the jewelry and pawn shop without the snitch's help, the appellate court ruled.

On the first day of Hammersla's new trial, prosecutors dropped one count of first-degree felony murder, in part because of the appellate court's decision.

No evidence of stolen jewelry or pawn slips was presented during this trial.

On Wednesday, Rodney Wolfe, a former Washington County Detention Center inmate, testified that he was at the jail serving six months for violating probation while Hammersla was there.

Wolfe testified that Hammersla told him police were trying to get samples of his hair and saliva, but that he thought police had enough evidence already.

"I asked him if they would find anything," Wolfe testified. "He said, 'Maybe on my pants or sneakers.'"

Wolfe later clarified that Hammersla was referring to "blood."

Amy Kelly, a forensic chemist in the Maryland State Police Forensic Science Division, testified that through DNA tests, she determined Shirley Finfrock's blood was on Hammersla's jacket and on the alleged murder weapon, a stained 2-by-6 board recovered from Finfrock's living room.

Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison, on cross-examination, challenged Kelly's accuracy. Kelly testified that she was careful while handling the DNA samples and had "many safeguards" in place to prevent errors.

Western Maryland Regional Crime Lab Forensic Scientist Susan Blankenship testified that she tested Hammersla's jacket for blood and pulled splinters from Hammersla's hands Nov. 15.

The blue plaid flannel jacket from which Kelly found the DNA match was identified by several witnesses Wednesday as the jacket they saw a man many identified as Hammersla wearing Nov. 12, 2003.

Hammersla's father, Jack L. Hammersla Sr., testified that his son "wore that jacket when it was cold" when Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Viki Pauler showed him the jacket. He testified that he saw Hammersla Jr. wearing it when he left his 116 W. Water St. home in Smithsburg at about 7 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2003. Defense attorneys challenged Hammersla Sr., saying that he previously stated Hammersla Jr. was wearing a sweat shirt that morning.

Hammersla Sr. said maybe Hammersla Jr. slung the jacket over his shoulder.

"I told him he had to leave because he hit me," he testified.

A few residents in the Smithsburg and Cavetown areas and employees in those areas testified that they saw a man, whom most identified as Hammersla, walking along railroad tracks that morning. Many of those witnesses marked on a map of the area where they saw the man between 6:45 a.m. and 8:20 a.m.

The witnesses were questioned by defense attorneys about how long they saw the man, a question that drew responses of between about 15 seconds and a minute.

The trial is to resume today at 9:30 a.m.

The Herald-Mail Articles