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York County prosecutors are opposing the release of a Felton-area man whose first-degree murder conviction in the drowning death of his wife was overturned earlier this week.

Joseph Fitzpatrick III was granted a judgment of acquittal Tuesday by Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn, who agreed with defense attorney Chris Ferro's post-conviction motion that prosecutors had failed to prove Annemarie Fitzpatrick's death was unlawful.

At trial, a forensic pathologist could only say her injuries were consistent with both being involved in a vehicle crash and being assaulted. Proving a death was unlawful is a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction in Pennsylvania, according to Renn's 23-page opinion.

Barring a successful appeal, the judge's ruling means Fitzpatrick, 42, cannot be tried again for murder in his wife's death. The York County District Attorney's Office has already filed its appeal with the state Superior Court, according to office spokesman Kyle King.

Release or bail: In response to Renn's judgment of acquittal, Ferro filed a motion Wednesday asking that Fitzpatrick be released from prison, or at least have bail set in his case while the appeal process is ongoing.

The prosecution on Thursday morning filed its motion opposing Ferro's request. First assistant district attorney Jennifer Russell and chief deputy prosector David Sunday, who jointly tried the case, have declined comment through King.

The motion argues Renn no longer has jurisdiction to rule on the release request because acquittal is now on appeal.

It also argues Fitzpatrick isn't entitled to bail because Renn's judgment of acquittal isn't final until all appeals have been exhausted, and because his conviction came with a life sentence.

In response, Renn scheduled a hearing on the matter for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15.

The background: A jury on May 13 found Fitzpatrick, 42, guilty of murdering 43-year-old Annemarie Fitzpatrick.

Prosecutors told jurors he drowned her in a portion of Muddy Creek that runs along the edge of the couple's 30-acre property in Chanceford Township on June 6, 2012, and that he staged the scene to make it appear as if they were riding their ATV when it crashed into the creek.

In explaining his decision to grant the judgment of acquittal, Renn wrote that jurors could not have determined Annemarie Fitzpatrick's death was unlawful without speculating.

"Perhaps the jury was correct in its assessment, but our system of justice was not founded upon mere suspicions or gut feelings," Renn's opinion states.

At best, the judge said, prosecutors showed Fitzpatrick had a motive to kill his wife, "and perhaps even specific intent to kill his wife."

Prosecutors used circumstantial evidence to prove their case, Renn noted, including notes left by Annemarie immediately prior to her death that implicate Fitzpatrick; the fact that he was involved in an emotional affair with another woman; and the $1.7 million in life insurance Fitzpatrick would receive if his wife died.

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

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