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Continuance granted in latest Harshman appeal

October 27, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Franklin County President Judge Douglas Herman has agreed to continue the latest appeal by a convicted murderer in order for the district attorney's office to acclimate new attorneys to the case.

Ronald Harshman, 59, was scheduled to appear Tuesday in Franklin County Court for the third day of his post-conviction relief act hearing. Testimony was also heard on Aug. 3 and Sept. 10.

Harshman, an inmate at Rockview State Penitentiary near Bellefonte, Pa., is appealing his 2001 murder conviction, claiming 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 relationship with Harshman's ex-wife, disappeared May 25, 1985, from his Greencastle, Pa., home. No body or murder weapon were found.

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Representatives of the District Attorney's office declined to comment Tuesday, but defense attorney Chris Sheffield said the recent death of District Attorney Jack Nelson, coupled with the impending appointment of Assistant District Attorney Angela Krom to the bench has left the state short of representatives who are familiar with the case.

Nelson led the 2001 prosecution of Harshman; Krom was his assistant.

Losing the two attorneys most familiar with the case led the DA's office to file a motion asking for more time, Sheffield said.

Herman, who presided over the 2001 conviction as well as Harshman's latest appeal, signed the continuance Tuesday, according to the court administrator's office. No date has been set for the next day of the hearing. Sheffield said it could be December before Harshman reappears in court.

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 who alleged Kohr and Granlun admitted later to lying on the stand, Sheffield said previously.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania planned to call its first witnesses in the hearing Tuesday, Nelson said during the Sept. 10 hearing. Nelson said he was planning to call Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Daren Hockenberry to testify.

The state built its 2001 case against Harshman on circumstantial evidence and the sworn testimony of Hockenberry and several inmates, including Kohr and Granlun, Nelson said.

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

Of the 17 witnesses subpoenaed to testify for the defense, only two took the stand.

Sheffield previously said he plans to present Herman with evidence, including letters from Kohr, that supports Harshman's claim. The evidence, he said, "speaks for itself."

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