Hammersla gets life again

November 22, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - A man convicted twice for the 2003 murder of a 68-year-old Smithsburg woman in her home was ordered Tuesday to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jack L. Hammersla Jr., 49, who in October was found guilty in the Nov. 12, 2003, bludgeoning death of Shirley P. Finfrock, was sentenced by Washington County Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley to life without the possibility of parole for first-degree felony murder and a concurrent 30-year sentence for second-degree murder.

One of Hammersla's attorneys, District Deputy Public Defender Mary Riley, said she couldn't comment on whether the office will appeal Beachley's decision.

Hammersla, who had grown a mustache since his October trial, looked at Beachley through thick glasses when his sentence was announced, but showed no emotion.


He wore his prison uniform instead of the white dress shirt he wore throughout his second trial.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Hammersla is a danger to the law-abiding citizens of the community," Beachley said.

The judge said he considered that Hammersla had been out of prison for about eight months when Finfrock was killed at her 22128 Holiday Drive home.

Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell said Hammersla served 21 years of a 30-year sentence for assault with the intent to murder for stabbing a man in front of The Maryland Theatre, "less than a half-block" from where Hammersla was picked up for questioning in Finfrock's death.

Kessell said Hammersla's criminal record shows a progression of serious offenses, including theft, escape and battery, all of which occurred before the stabbing.

"Then we have this case ... the most heinous act one could commit, taking the life of another person," Kessell said.

Kessell said that although there is no sentence that could bring back Shirley Finfrock, he asked Beachley to "bring some assurance to the community he will never be released."

One of Hammersla's attorneys, Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison, said that when Hammersla was released from prison in March 2003, he slept in a camper and began drinking alcohol again. Hammersla, who was abused as a child, has "chronic psychiatric problems," including schizophrenia, Hutchison said.

Hutchison asked that Beachley consider offering Hammersla a chance at parole since he is approaching 50 years old.

Finfrock's family did not speak at Tuesday's sentencing and declined to comment afterward. Kessell said during the hearing that the family has said all they have to say.

"They've been through this trial two times now," he said.

In 2004, Hammersla was convicted in Finfrock's death and sentenced to life without parole. In February, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned his conviction and subsequent sentence. The appellate court ruled pawn slip and jewelry evidence should not have been submitted in the 2004 trial.

At Tuesday's sentencing, Beachley first addressed defense attorneys' contentions that prosecutors didn't file enough notice in Hammersla's second trial to secure a life without the possibility of parole sentence.

Listing off federal and state positions and case law that he felt supported his opinion, Beachley said, "I am persuaded the state was not required to refile a notice of intent to seek a life sentence without the possibility of parole" for Hammersla's second trial.

Know more 15 seconds

The issue: Jack L. Hammersla Jr. was convicted a second time in October in the Nov. 12, 2003, bludgeoning death of Shirley P. Finfrock. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned his first conviction and sentence in February.

What's new: Hammersla was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole Tuesday. Washington County Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley said there was enough case law to back his decision.

What's next: Hammersla's attorneys wouldn't comment about whether they will appeal.

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