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Pa. man convicted in neighbor's death seeks new trial

Michael Harrigan, formerly of Blue Ridge Summit, fatally shot Steven Wetzel in 2010

June 20, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Harrigan
Harrigan

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A former Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., man convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 2011 appeared in the Franklin County (Pa.) Court of Common Pleas again Thursday to ask for a new trial.

Michael Harrigan, 32, fatally shot his neighbor, Steven Wetzel, on May 27, 2010. Wetzel walked toward Harrigan’s home about an hour after the two men had argued about noise.

Harrigan is serving a five-year sentence in state prison.

On Thursday, David J. Foster, Harrigan’s appeals attorney, questioned him about issues that are the basis of a Post Conviction Relief Act petition.

Through Foster, Harrigan is asking President Judge Douglas Herman for a new trial based on three factors:

  • The two trial attorneys allegedly told Harrigan that Wetzel’s criminal history could not be mentioned during the trial, even though the judge ruled it could.
  • The previous defense team did not utilize character witnesses during the trial, despite Harrigan’s request to do so.
  • The court did not instruct the jury that one of its possible verdicts could be involuntary manslaughter.

Harrigan’s trial attorneys, Scott Rolle and James Reed, did not appear in court for the hearing. Neither Foster nor the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office subpoenaed them.

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Instead, Harrigan testified as to his recollection of conversations with them, after Assistant District Attorney Jeremiah Zook’s hearsay objection was overruled.

Harrigan testified he knew of some of Wetzel’s criminal history and previous violent acts prior to the shooting. He said he wanted that information presented during the trial, in which self-defense and defense of others was claimed by Harrigan.

“I made it clear I wanted to include it. ... I knew he had a dangerous history of conduct with firearms,” Harrigan said.

He said the attorneys told him to not mention the defendant’s criminal history or previous acts in court because it would lead to a mistrial. Later, he learned Herman ruled before the trial that information was admissible.

Foster argued that the attorneys did not have strategic or tactical reasons for failing to raise the criminal history, character witnesses or involuntary manslaughter instruction.

Zook argued Thursday that case law says those points do not equate to ineffectiveness.

Herman requested written briefs for him to review in the coming weeks.

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