Zachary Witman
Zachary Witman

Pennsylvania's highest court on Thursday denied convicted murderer Zachary Witman's bid for a new sentencing hearing.

The state Supreme Court's order does not provide an explanation.

Witman, now 30, was 15 years old when he was charged with the 1998 murder of his 13-year-old brother, Gregory Witman.

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

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

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is unconstitutional to automatically sentence convicted murderers to life without parole if they committed the crimes as juveniles.

Greg Witman
Greg Witman
Life sentences may still be handed down for juvenile murderers, but they can't be automatic, the court ruled.

Last fall, the state Supreme Court ruled on the fate of some 460 state prisoners -- including 11 York County murderers -- convicted of first- and second-degree murders committed as juveniles.

The ruling denied new sentencing hearings to those juvenile killers whose direct appeals ran out prior to June 2012, including Witman.

Witman's Philadelphia-based attorney, Norris Gelman, has said he believes the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually overturn that ruling. He could not be reached for comment Friday morning.

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

They started a tip line and are offering a $100,000 reward for information.

The family maintains police did little investigation and contaminated the crime scene.

But chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said the evidence against Witman was "simply overwhelming" and "he is just guilty."

Barker said he expected yesterday's ruling, which the state Supreme Court had waited to hand down until after it ruled on which convicted juvenile murderers are eligible for new sentencing hearings.

"(Witman) has now officially exhausted his state appeals," Barker said, and any remaining appeals he has must be handled in the federal courts.

Last spring, Ron and Sue Witman, the parents of Zachary and Greg Witman, announced former New York City homicide detective Jay Salpeter, who is now a private investigator, had agreed to take the case.

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 wrongly convicted of murdering his parents. He spent 17 years in prison.

The Witmans ask anyone with information about the murder to call their confidential tip line at (717) 819-6006.

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.