Jury finds Harrigan guilty of voluntary manslaughter in shooting

February 10, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Harrigan

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A Franklin County (Pa.) Court jury Thursday found Michael Harrigan guilty of voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting his neighbor last spring.

Harrigan, 30, was convicted of killing Steven Wetzel, 47, early on May 27, 2010, a first-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.

While his family and friends prayed and cried quietly, Harrigan sat emotionless as the verdict was read after four hours of jury deliberation. Tears streamed down his wife's face as she clutched their toddler.

The panel of eight men and four women found Harrigan not guilty of first-degree and third-degree murder, other possible verdicts under the charge of criminal homicide he faced.

Judge Douglas Herman said his staff would work with the lawyers to schedule sentencing.

Testimony during the trial established a series of events largely agreed upon by both the prosecution and defense — the neighbors from Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., argued after Harrigan requested people in Wetzel's yard to quiet down, the police arrived and left, Wetzel walked toward Harrigan's home about an hour later, and Harrigan fired a 12-gauge shotgun.

An autopsy report said Wetzel died of the gunshot to his head and neck.

The jury started deliberating at 1 p.m., the fourth day of the trial. They returned to the courtroom at 3:30 p.m. to ask for a definition of "lying in wait." The phrase is in the definition of intent associated with first-degree murder.

The day opened with closing arguments from both sides.

"If I could sum up this case in two words: self-defense. That's what this case is about," defense attorney Scott Rolle said, saying Harrigan wanted to protect himself and his family.

Assistant District Attorney Jeremiah Zook argued Harrigan did not act in self-defense, but rather waited behind his house and approached Wetzel in a shadowy side yard.

"A sensible person, a person without intention to kill, would stay in his house," Zook said.

Zook emphasized Harrigan did not lock the basement door or check the other locks or windows. The prosecutor addressed a comment Harrigan made in a police interview about officers not taking Wetzel into custody when they responded to the first dispute.

In a recording of the police interview, Harrigan can be heard saying police "didn't help the situation at all" and it wasn't a solution.

"Mike Harrigan came up with a solution to Steven Wetzel. He armed himself with a shotgun and a pistol," Zook said. "He left the safety and security of his home. He laid in wait out of sight from the road."

The Wetzel and Harrigan families declined comment after the verdict was read.

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