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No bail for Zachary Witman; defense considers its next step

BROCK PARKER
YorkDispatch

At least for now, Zachary Witman must remain in prison while he awaits a new trial on charges of murdering his 13-year-old brother.

York County Common Pleas Judge John C. Uhler ruled Monday that he does not have the jurisdiction to grant or deny bail to Witman while he awaits a new trial for the 1998 death of his younger brother, Gregory Witman, in New Freedom.

Zachary Witman was convicted of first-degree murder in 2003, but has been seeking to be released on bail since January after Uhler overturned his 2003 conviction.

Uhler overturned the conviction in December on the grounds that Witman's former attorney, David McGlaughlin, had been ineffective during Witman's 2003 trial.

The York County District Attorney's Office is appealing the overturned conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

While Witman awaits a new trial, his attorneys asked Uhler to release him on bail, but prosecutors argued that because of their appeal, Uhler no longer has jurisdiction over Witman's bail.

In a one-page decision Monday, Uhler agreed with prosecutors that he no longer has jurisdiction over Witman's case because of the appeal.

Nathan Dershowitz, one of three attorneys now representing Witman, said the defense team must now decide whether to ask the Pennsylvania Superior Court to grant Witman bail.

If Witman does seek bail from the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Timothy Barker said he will fight to keep Witman in custody.

"Our ultimate position is that he's not entitled to bail, period," Barker said Tuesday.

Remains in prison: Witman remains at the Smithfield State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon County. He was 15 at the time of his brother's death on Oct. 2, 1998. Gregory Witman was 13 years old and was found nearly decapitated on the laundry room floor of his family's New Freedom home.

Uhler overturned Zachary Witman's conviction for the murder because McGlaughlin allowed prosecutors to use a pair of bloodstained socks that police obtained from Zachary Witman. Uhler, who presided over the 2003 trial, had granted a defense motion to suppress the socks as evidence because he ruled police improperly obtained them.

But McGlaughlin said he allowed prosecutors to use the socks as evidence because he thought they would work to Witman's advantage. McGlaughlin said he believed it was obvious a bloody footprint police found did not match that which would have been made by the socks Witman wore.

Without the socks, Witman's new attorneys said prosecutors' case against Witman has been "substantially weakened," according to court documents.

-- Reach Brock Parker at 505-5434 or bparker@yorkdispatch.com.