Zachary Witman
Zachary Witman

CAN YOU HELP? A $100,000 reward is being offered to the person who provides information that leads to the release of Zachary Witman from state prison. The confidential tip line is (717) 819-6006.

Zachary Witman has spent nearly half his life in prison for the murder of his younger brother, 13-year-old Gregory Witman.

Now 29, he was just 15 when he was arrested and charged in his brother's 1998 slaying.

Greg was stabbed and slashed 65 times and nearly decapitated in the family's laundry room. Police later found bloody gloves and a knife buried in the back yard of the family's New Freedom home.

In 2003, Zachary Witman was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Gregory Witman
Gregory Witman

His family and friends have long maintained his innocence and are now working with a former New York City homicide detective to try to prove it.

And Ron Witman, father of Zachary and Greg, said he and wife Sue Witman are hoping a $100,000 reward and a new tip line will help shed new light on the old case.

"My wife has been wanting to do this for some time," he said, but he and their son's attorneys convinced her to wait for the legal process to play out.

That process has failed to exonerate Zachary Witman, his father said, and now an outside expert will launch a new investigation into Greg's murder.

High-profile cases: Sue Witman reached out to Jay Salpeter, a former New York City homicide detective and now a private investigator, who agreed to take the case, Ron Witman said.

"If you look at his record, (there are) two major national cases in which he was involved (where he) found new evidence -- and had people released," Ron Witman said.

Salpeter's work helped lead to the release of one of the West Memphis Three, three young men who spent 18 years in prison for the murders of three little boys.

Salpeter's work also helped overturn the conviction of Martin Tankleff, a Long Island resident wrongfully convicted of murdering his parents. He spent 17 years in prison.

"Of course it's new hope," Ron Witman said.

Game-breaker? But until the tip line starts ringing and Salpeter gets more leads to go on, perhaps it's unwise to hope too much.

"It can be a game-breaker," Ron Witman said of the tip line and the new investigation. "We just have to wait."

Salpeter has already begun chipping away at the case, he said.

"He's already uncovered, by an in-depth review of discovery (materials) things even Sue and I didn't see," regarding possible perpetrators, the father said.

One possible lead is from a neighbor who reported seeing a confused man in a white van near the Witman home at the time of the murder, according to a news release announcing the new investigation. Also, it appears Greg was involved in a dispute at school a short time before he got home and was attacked, the release states.

Evidence issue: "My wife has always felt that this story deserved publicity because it's such a heinous crime to Greg and because there is absolutely no evidence that's credible linking Zach to the buried knife and gloves," Ron Witman said. "The police's theory just doesn't hold together."

The Witmans maintain police did little investigation and contaminated the crime scene.

Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker has always maintained the district attorney's office got it right.

"He's just guilty," Barker has said of Zachary Witman. "The evidence was simply overwhelming against him."

Ron Witman said the prosecutor is wrong.

"Tim Barker's response to everything is, 'The Witmans can concoct anything they want to help them get through the day, but Zach did it,'" he said. "But you know what? The physical evidence does not point to Zach."

A press conference to announce the new investigation will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 27, at the Yorktowne Hotel in York City.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.