Man convicted twice in Smithsburg woman's death seeks new trial

Jack Lewis Hammersla Jr. claims he had ineffective counsel for second trial

July 20, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • In this file photo, Jack L. Hammersla is led out of Washington County Circuit Court by Deputy Robert Waugh after a court proceeding. Hammersla appeared in Washington County Circuit Court again Tuesday, claiming he had ineffective counsel and asking for a new trial.
Herald-Mail file photo

A man twice convicted and sentenced to life for the bludgeoning death of a Smithsburg woman was in Washington County Circuit Court again Tuesday, claiming he had ineffective counsel and asking for a new trial.

"He was droning on and on about my mental records," Jack Lewis Hammersla Jr. testified Wednesday before Judge Daniel P. Dwyer, referring to Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison's closing argument to the jury in his second trial. "He should have been honing in on the central facts that were in my favor."

Hammersla, 54, formerly of Hagerstown, was convicted in 2004 of first-degree murder in the Nov. 12, 2003, death of 68-year-old Shirley Finfrock at her Holiday Drive home.

That conviction was later overturned when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that evidence concerning stolen jewelry that Hammersla pawned should not have been admitted at trial.

Hammersla was convicted by a jury again in 2006 and was sentenced to life without parole, but the Court of Special Appeals, the state's highest court, overturned the sentence on defense claims that the state erred by not providing timely notice that it would again seek a sentence of life without parole.

In 2010, Judge Donald E. Beachley sentenced Hammersla to life, but with the possibility of parole.

There was DNA evidence introduced at his trial that Hammersla was wearing a flannel jacket with Finfrock's blood on it when he was arrested. Hammersla said Hutchison should have emphasized that there were witnesses who could place him at a Laundromat where he picked up the jacket by "carelessness."

"I got the clothing from the Laundromat. I didn't know what was on it," Hammersla testified.

"They had nobody who could put me at the scene of the crime .... They had no fingerprints," he testified.

Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell called no witnesses for the prosecution, but told Dwyer, "there was sufficient evidence here to convict the defendant."

Along with the blood evidence, Kessell said there were witnesses placing Hammersla near Finfrock's home around the time of her murder; a knit cap witnesses said he had been wearing was found near the house; and he had splinters in both his hands.

Finfrock died from repeated blows from a 2-by-6 board, Kessell said after the hearing.

Hammersla filed the petition for post-conviction relief himself, Matthew Lynn of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender told Dwyer.

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