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Joyce says prosecutors in Hammersla case

October 14, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - When he stood trial the first time on charges he bludgeoned a Smithsburg woman to death in 2003, Jack L. Hammersla Jr. was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But the Maryland Court of Special Appeals granted him a new trial. Now, it's unclear whether life without parole will be a sentencing option following Hammersla's second conviction in the case on Oct. 6.

At issue is whether the Washington County State's Attorney's office was required to file a new notice of intent to seek a sentence of life without parole more than 30 days before the new trial.

That deadline wasn't met in the new trial, but Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. says the prosecution's notice filed for Hammersla's first trial was sufficient for the second trial, too.

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Jerry Joyce, a private attorney running against Strong in the Nov. 7 general election, says prosecutors had to refile and missed the deadline to do so.

District Deputy Public Defender Mary Riley, one of two public defenders who represented Hammersla in both trials, declined to comment Friday on the matter.

No defense motions in advance of the Nov. 21 sentencing date have yet been filed, according to court records.

Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley presided over the second trial and is set to sentence Hammersla on first-degree felony murder and second-degree murder and lesser charges on which the jury convicted Hammersla on Oct. 6.

Beachley declined to comment on the filing issue Friday.

Under a section of Maryland criminal law, a defendant found guilty of first-degree murder may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole only if "at least 30 days before trial, the state gave written notice to the defendant of the state's intention to seek a sentence of imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole."

Before Hammersla's first trial, prosecutors filed a notice that they would seek life without the possibility of parole on May 19, 2004, which was more than 30 days before the trial began on June 28, 2004, according to court records.

After his first conviction, he was sentenced to life without parole in the bludgeoning death of Shirley P. Finfrock on Nov. 12, 2003, at her Smithsburg home.

This time around, prosecutors filed their notice on Sept. 19, fewer than 30 days before the start of Hammersla's second trial, which began on Oct. 2, court records show.

Strong contends that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ordered a new trial and that every motion or notice filed before Hammersla's original trial stands.

"The second notice was simply a reminder - not an original notice," Strong said.

Joyce questioned why, if that were the case, prosecutors bothered to file the notice the second time around.

Attempts to get professors at both the University of Maryland School of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law to weigh in on the issue this week were unsuccessful.

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