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Defense rests case in Harshman hearing

September 10, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The defense wrapped up its side of a Post Conviction Relief Act (PRCA) evidentiary hearing for Ronald W. Harshman on Thursday in Franklin County Court.

Harshman, 59, an inmate at Rockview State Penitentiary in Bellefonte, Pa., is appealing his 2001 murder conviction under the PCRA on the grounds that material witnesses gave false testimony during his trial in exchange for reduced jail sentences.

Harshman's latest appeal relied on recantations of testimony by key witnesses Keith Granlun, 57, and Randi Kohr, 35, as well as testimony from witnesses alleging that Kohr and Granlun 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 Kohr and Granlun, said Franklin County District Attorney Jack Nelson, who prosecuted the case along with assistant Angela Krom.

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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 on May 25, 1985, from his Greencastle home. No body or murder weapon were ever found.

Kohr and Granlun both declined to testify in the Aug. 3 hearing under the protection of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects witnesses from self-incrimination.

Before invoking his fifth amendment right, Granlun told the court he would testify if given immunity.

Only one other defense witness, Megin Chilcote, testified for the defense before presiding judge Douglas W. Herman.

Prevented from providing hearsay testimony about her ex-husband Kohr, Chilcote testified Thursday that in 2000 she contacted Nelson to ask when he would "uphold his end of the deal."

Chilcote said Nelson offered to release Kohr in 2000 in exchange for his testimony against Harshman. She also said she made repeated calls to Nelson about Kohr's release.

None of the other 17 witnesses subpoenaed by the defense were able to testify, including those objected to by Nelson on Aug. 3 as hearsay.

Herman ruled on the objection Sept. 4, saying that hearsay evidence, both written and sworn testimony, was inadmissible under the Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence.

The remaining defense witnesses either were excused from trial, not called by the defense or ruled as inadmissible by Herman.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be given a chance to call witnesses when the hearing reconvenes Oct. 27.

Nelson said he plans to call Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Daren Hockenberry to testify.

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