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Pa. man pleads not guilty to attempted murder, arson

September 19, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERBSURG, Pa. -- A man who was ruled competent last month to stand trial on 2006 charges of attempted murder and arson entered a not guilty plea Wednesday in Franklin County Court, according to the District Attorney's Office.

The case of Laverne Z. Zimmerman, 22, of Shippensburg, Pa., was scheduled for the November trial term, a member of the District Attorney's staff said. Zimmerman is charged with setting the Aug. 31, 2006, fire that damaged the Olde Scotland Road home of Reuben and Minerva Oberhotzer in Southampton Township, Pennsylvania State Police said.

At a hearing in April, Judge Douglas Herman ruled Zimmerman was not competent to stand trial and ordered him to undergo treatment in a state mental hospital for 60 days. A psychiatrist at the hearing testified Zimmerman had a mental disorder that prevented him from being able to understand the seriousness of the charges against him, or to assist in his own defense.

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Zimmerman was hospitalized for more than three months in late 2006 and sought outpatient treatment several times in 2007, Dr. John Hume testified at that hearing.

Public Defender Michael Toms said the competency issue had been resolved, and Zimmerman waived his preliminary hearing on the charge.

State police said the Oberhotzers found a rambling letter with sexual and religious references in their mailbox earlier on the day of the fire. Reuben Oberhotzer told police he had spoken to Zimmerman's father, who indicated his son might have been involved in setting the fire, police said.

When questioned by police the day after the fire, Zimmerman told them he had just learned about the fire, the affidavit of probable cause stated. However, police said no one had mentioned the fire before he made that statement.

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