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Jury to resume today in murder trial

October 06, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - A Washington County Circuit jury took more than four hours Thursday to deliberate murder charges against Jack L. Hammersla Jr. before returning with questions about premeditated murder and DNA testing, and a request for more time.

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 68-year-old Shirley P. Finfrock of Smithsburg.

Instead of continuing deliberations into the night Thursday, the jury requested to resume deliberations today at 9 a.m.

A Circuit jury in 2004 took about an hour to convict Hammersla on charges of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder.

But that conviction and his subsequent sentence of life without the possibility of parole were thrown out by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in February.

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The appellate court's decision hinged on jewelry and pawn slip evidence submitted in Hammersla's first trial. The court said the prosecution had no proof it would have known about the jewelry and pawn shop without the help of a jailhouse snitch, who was deemed an agent of the state.

In this trial, the jury of six men and six women, which began deliberating at 1 p.m. returned at about 5:30 p.m. to ask Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley to "define premeditation" and explain the "steps followed in the DNA test" that connected a spot of blood on Hammersla's jacket to Finfrock.

Although Beachley redefined premeditation, he told jurors they would have to rely on their notes and memory for the steps in the DNA testing.

Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell began his closing argument Thursday by reminding jurors of the importance of that drop of blood.

"What does that one drop of blood tell us? It tells us that this shirt ... was in the bedroom of 22128 Holiday Drive the morning of Nov. 12, 2003," Kessell said as he pointed to the blue plaid flannel jacket.

He said one drop of blood "is too many."

According to one of Hammersla's attorneys, Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison, one drop was not enough. Reiterating for jurors that prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, Hutchison told jurors to consider how only one drop of blood was found on the cuff of a jacket worn by a man who supposedly bludgeoned a woman to death, leaving behind "thousands of (blood) spatters" in her bedroom.

Kessell reminded jurors of several witnesses who testified they saw Hammersla wearing the jacket that morning while walking the railroad tracks in the Smithsburg, Cavetown and Chewsville areas, a stretch of tracks that runs behind Finfrock's home.

Hutchison argued, "What does a man walking down the tracks near what happened that day really mean?"

Kessell contended that the sightings of Hammersla on the railroad tracks placed him at the Finfrock home that morning.

"The person responsible for Shirley Finfrock's death came off the railroad tracks, picked up a 2-by-6 - perhaps from the wood pile - and broke into the rear door to a house that doesn't have a fenced yard," Kessell said.

Kessell said the killer held onto the 2-by-6 after breaking into the house "because of the possibility he might find someone in that home."

Kessell reminded jurors that Finfrock was struck "at least three times" with the board. She "fought with him. She tried to defend herself," Kessell argued, noting the defensive wounds found on Finfrock's forearms and hands.

Hutchison asked the jurors to think about how a purse, billfold, a red knit cap and a grouping of rocks that prosecutors argued were placed off the tracks by Hammersla were not found by a K-9 the morning of the homicide.

"The K-9 didn't leave the railroad tracks ... The person who put the purse there is not the same person who walked down the railroad tracks," Hutchison alleged.

Kessell told jurors that Hammersla was found with splinters in his hands and although Hammersla gave several explanations about how he got the splinters, Kessell demonstrated how he might have gotten them while striking Finfrock.

Hutchison argued there are "no eyewitnesses, no fibers, no hairs, no prints, no confession" to connect Hammersla to the scene.

"So much of this case simply doesn't make sense," he said.

Hammersla didn't have a motive to kill Finfrock, but her husband, Edwyn Finfrock, did, Hutchison alleged.

Earlier, Hutchison played a 911 tape recording of Edwyn Finfrock's call for help after arriving home from work at about 11:30 a.m. and finding his wife dead.

On the tape, Edwyn Finfrock calmly reported to the dispatcher: "I just found my wife all cut and bleeding, and I think she killed herself."

Kessell told jurors that investigators at first suspected Edwyn Finfrock killed his wife, but after more investigation ruled him out.

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.

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