Harshman appeals 2001 murder conviction

August 03, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Several key defense witnesses will not testify in the latest appeal to overturn the 2001 murder conviction of Ronald W. Harshman.

Harshman, 59, formerly of 11807 Clearview Road in Hagerstown, is appealing his conviction on the grounds that material witnesses gave false testimony during his trial in exchange for reduced jail sentences.

A jury found Harshman guilty in 2001 of first-degree murder in the death of Melvin Snyder. Snyder, 42, who had an affair with Harshman's ex-wife, disappeared May 25, 1985, from his Greencastle, Pa., home. No body or murder weapon were ever found.

Seventeen people were listed as potential witnesses in the evidentiary hearing for appeal Monday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. At least seven were subpoenaed by the defense.


Only one witness, Walter Dill of York, Pa., actually testified before the court, presided over by President Judge Douglas W. Herman.

Dill testified that he talked to his brother-in law, Keith Granlun, before the trial. He said Granlun asked him to contact an attorney named Keller about the case.

The remaining witnesses were either excused from testifying, not called by the defense or were opposed by the state's attorneys.

Harshman's latest appeal relied on recantations of testimony by former and current Franklin County Jail inmates, as well as testimony from witnesses alleging that the men admitted later to lying on the stand, defense attorney Chris Sheffield said.

The prosecution built its case against Harshman on circumstantial evidence and the sworn testimony of several inmates, including Randi Kohr, 35, and Granlun, 57.

During the 2001 trial, the men testified that, while incarcerated, Harshman admitted to killing Snyder.

Sheffield said Monday that he had signed affidavits and letters as evidence that both men lied on the stand.

Recanting prior testimony would expose the men to possible charges of perjury, said District Attorney John "Jack" Nelson.

Attorneys for Kohr and Granlun advised the men that if their testimony Monday differed from their sworn statements of 2001, they could be arrested for perjury.

In Pennsylvania, a conviction on a perjury charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine, Nelson said.

Kohr and Granlun declined to testify Monday under the protection of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects witnesses from self-incrimination.

Before pleading the fifth, Granlun told the court he would testify if given immunity from the commonwealth.

"I don't know any prosecuting attorney who would grant immunity for perjury to get the 'truth' this time," Nelson said. "I have no reason to believe the prior testimony of either man was false."

"I want to know why the district attorney is not trying to discover the truth," Sheffield said after his request to have the district attorney removed from the case was denied by Herman. "The D.A. has an obligation to seek the truth, not hide behind some rule of law."

Nelson, who prosecuted the case in 2001 with Assistant District Attorney Angela Krom, said he took offense to Sheffield attacking his credibility.

"This is bogus, a fraud on the system, as far as I'm concerned," he said of the appeal.

When asked if he would have objected to Kohr or Granlun testifying and accepting punishment for lying on the stand in 2001, Nelson said, "Hell no, I would not have objected."

With his two material witnesses excused from the appeal, Sheffield asked the court to allow testimony from his remaining five witnesses. Nelson objected to each remaining witness, saying their words would be hearsay.

Hearsay is admissible in certain circumstances, Herman said.

To determine if it will be admissible in this case, Herman asked the attorneys to submit arguments in writing and continued the case until Sept. 9 at 9 a.m.

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