Death penalty off table in grisly York murder retrial

Liz Evans Scolforo

Convicted murderer Daniel Jacobs will not face the death penalty when he is retried for the grisly 1992 slaying of his girlfriend.

Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said his office consulted with experts and reviewed evidence, including post-conviction evidence that calls into question Jacobs' mental health and other mitigating factors that jurors would have to consider when deciding whether to impose a death sentence.

Daniel Jacobs

"We reviewed everything carefully and we're very confident in this decision, based upon the evidence," Barker said. "There is an extremely high likelihood that, at a retrial, one or more jurors would find the mitigating circumstances outweighed the aggravating circumstances. We decided there's not a basis to go forward with a capital case."

Jurors must unanimously agree on a death sentence, otherwise an adult murder defendant automatically receives a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"We've had so much mental-health history developed on Mr. Jacobs (since his convictions)," Barker said. "That information was very important to us to consider and factor in."

Jacobs' latest court-appointed attorney, Kevin Hoffman, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The background: It's been 15 years since an appeals judge threw out the death penalty for Jacobs and 11 years since his murder conviction for the death of girlfriend Tammy Mock was overturned entirely.

Jacobs, who turns 46 later this month, has remained in state prison because his first-degree murder conviction for the drowning death of his baby daughter has withstood legal challenges. He has exhausted all appeals in that case.

He is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for drowning 7-month-old Holly Danielle Jacobs in the family bathtub.

Competency at issue in 1992 double slaying in York City

It's Jacobs' related first-degree murder conviction for the bloody stabbing death of Mock inside their West King Street apartment in February 1992 that was overturned. Appeals attorneys successfully argued that Jacobs' trial attorneys erred by not introducing mitigating testimony, including assertions Jacobs was mentally ill, that his IQ is less than 70 and that he was abused as a child.

Mock, 18, was stabbed about 200 times. She was Holly's mother.

Judge's rulings: On Sept. 29, Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness issued an order stating Jacobs is competent to stand trial a second time in Mock's slaying. Prior to that, Jacobs had for a period of years been deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Jacobs' Aug. 23 competency hearing hearing centered on the testimony of two forensic psychiatrists.

Dr. Julie Kessel, retained by the defense, testified he isn't competent to stand trial. She said she diagnosed Jacobs with schizoid personality disorder and said he suffers from paranoid features, mild mental retardation and a cognitive disorder.

Judge: Former death-row inmate competent for retrial

Dr. Larry Rotenberg, retained by the prosecution, testified that Jacobs has a longstanding non-psychotic view of the world that's not particularly treatable with medication. He also said Jacobs has a litigious paranoid personality.

"He gets his gratification in life from constantly being adversarial, constantly being uncooperative," Rotenberg said, adding Jacobs views the world with "ambivalence and suspicion."

Rotenberg diagnosed Jacobs with paranoid personality disorder and said Jacobs is competent to stand trial.

Solely evidence-based: Barker confirmed taking the death penalty off the table means Jacobs' retrial will be less costly to taxpayers but said that fact wasn't something his office took into consideration.

He also said the state's de facto moratorium on the death penalty played no part in the decision to seek life in prison rather than the death penalty.

"This is purely an evidence decision," Barker said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.