Sentenced to die a quarter-century ago, Dowling could get new trial in Spring Grove business woman's murder

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

A former Lancaster County man is getting a new trial 24 years after he was sentenced to death for the murder of a Spring Grove art gallery owner.

Kevin Dowling, now 63, was granted the new trial Feb. 22 in an order issued by Senior Judge Robert Eby of Lebanon County. Eby has been assigned to the case since 2012.

Eby based his decision on the claims Dowling received ineffective assistance from his attorney at trial and that prosecutors failed to correct false testimony and suppressed evidence that could have exonerated Dowling.

Kevin Brian Dowling

“The jury at petitioner’s trial was provided with false, uncontested, incorrect and erroneous evidence,” he stated in his order.

Dowling was initially accused of attempting to rape art gallery owner Jennifer Myers during a robbery in 1996. Myers identified Dowling as her attacker about four months later.

In October 1997, Myers was shot in the head and chest and killed at her new Gray Fox Gallery in Spring Grove, two days before she was scheduled to testify against Dowling.

Police arrested Dowling as the murder suspect several days later. He was first convicted of the robbery and attempted rape in April 1998. About seven months after that, a jury found him guilty of Myers’ murder, and in December 1998, sentenced him to death on the basis that he sought to silence a witness against him.

At trial, the evidence against Dowling included a woman’s eyewitness testimony, in which she stated she “had no doubt” she saw Dowling in the parking lot of Kennie’s Market at Spring Forge Plaza the day Myers was killed. She was less sure about the time, thinking maybe it was around 11:30 a.m. or noon, about an hour to an hour and a half before the murder, according to the judge’s opinion.

An investigation found the woman’s receipt from Kennie’s was time-stamped at 10:50 a.m.  Pennsylvania State Police Trooper William Mowery checked the register about five days after the murder to verify the receipt time, and against his watch he reported the register’s clock was nearly 20 minutes slow. The trooper went back to the store shortly before the trial in 1998, checked the register again, and said it was 11 minutes slow that time, the opinion shows.

The trooper testified about his findings at trial, and his role helped Dowling receive a new trial more than two decades later. This issue was one of 26 claims Dowling raised in a petition for post-conviction relief filed in 2020.

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Judge Eby, in his opinion, pointed out the trooper didn’t pull any documentation from the register. He also wasn’t called to testify as a “point-of-sale expert,” and he wasn’t vetted as such. Notably, the judge said Dowling’s trial attorney, Gerald Lord, didn’t challenge the trooper’s testimony.

While seeking post-conviction relief, Dowling’s new counsel brought in two experts, one in 2010 and the other in 2019, to examine credit and debit card transactions from the Kennie’s cash register from the day of Myers’ murder, and they both concluded the 10:50 a.m. time stamped on the witness’ receipt was accurate. The clock wasn’t off.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, which took over the case after Dowling’s conviction, hired its own experts, and after an investigation, concurred with the defense experts, the court document shows.

“We would testify that there is no evidence to support Trooper Mowrey's representation that when he checked the time on register 6 at Kennie' s Market on October 25, 1997, the register was discovered to be 20 minutes slow,” the expert is quoted as stating in the opinion.

The time issue becomes critical, with   Eby saying prosecution testimony from another witness placed Dowling at Muddy Run Lake in Lancaster County, about 40 miles and an hour away from Spring Grove, around 10:50 a.m. on the day Myers was killed.

During the investigation, Dowling had produced what he considered an alibi at the time — a video of him fishing at Muddy Run Lake. But experts found the timecode on the video was fabricated, and Dowling later said he was at a strip club in Harrisburg when Myers was killed.

In his opinion, Eby concentrated on the receipt time stamp and the time Dowling was placed at the lake when he concluded the witness at Spring Forge Plaza could not have seen Dowling.

“Experts now concur that the man identified by [the witness] as she emerged from Kennie's Market could not have been petitioner, as he was then over forty miles away at Muddy Run Lake, based upon evidence presented by the Commonwealth at Petitioner's trial,” Eby stated.

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The judge found Lord provided ineffective assistance at trial, such as failing to investigate and prove the cash register clock was accurate.

“Trial counsel provided deficient, unreasonable representation in critical areas of the pretrial, trial and direct appeal proceedings; and confidence in the outcome is undermined as a result, establishing prejudice,” Eby wrote. “Had trial counsel set out to show that the register receipts were, in fact, accurate, the jury would have had no doubt that Petitioner was not in the Kennie's Market parking lot.”

On top of the ineffective assistance, Eby found prosecutors suppressed the exonerating evidence, failing an obligation to disclose it to the defense, and relied on testimony they should have known was false. He pointed out how the prosecution “went to great lengths” to convince the jury that the witness was at Kennie’s Market later than the receipt timestamp showed.

Eby wrote prosecutors were aware register rolls impeached the witness and the testimony on the receipt timestamp was false.

“Nevertheless, at trial, the Commonwealth relied upon the incompetent, unscientific and undocumented investigation of Trooper Mowrey in an attempt to bolster (the witness’) testimony and convince the jury that her receipt was inaccurate,” Eby stated.

The state attorney general’s office intends to appeal the judge’s decision.

“We respectfully disagree with the conclusion reached by the court and plan to appeal,” the office stated in an email.

Prison records show Dowling remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution – Phoenix in Collegeville, Montgomery County.

— Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.