U.S. Supreme Court opts not to hear Witman case


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday opted not to hear an appeal filed on behalf of Zachary Witman, who was convicted of killing his brother more than a decade ago.

Witman, now 31, was 15 years old when he was charged with the 1998 murder of his 13-year-old brother, Gregory Witman.

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

The petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case came after the same court's 2012 ruling that it is unconstitutional to automatically sentence convicted murderers to life without parole if they committed the crimes as juveniles. Life sentences may still be handed down for juvenile murderers, but they can't be automatic, the court ruled.

However, the court didn't specify how its ruling should apply to previous cases.

Previous rulings: Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled on the fate of some 460 state prisoners -- including 11 in York County -- 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.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court denied Witman's bid for a new sentencing hearing.

Monday's Supreme Court decision came as no surprise to Tim Barker, chief deputy prosecutor for York County.

Barker, who was the lead prosecutor in Witman's 2003 trial, said previous rulings by the high court set a precedent for the recent decision.

"Hearing it's been denied; it's expected," he said.

Witman's New York City-based attorney involved in his U.S. Supreme Court petition could not be reached for comment Monday night.

- Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.