Barker promoted to No. 2 prosecutor in York DA's office after Russell resigns

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York County chief deputy prosecutor and coalition co-chair Tim Barker speaks during the news conference kickoff for the York County Reentry Coalition at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Tuesday, April 24, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The longtime second-in-command in the York County District Attorney's Office is resigning to take a new job, and veteran chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker will replace her.

Jennifer Russell's last day as first assistant district attorney will be July 15, according to Kyle King, spokesman for the DA's office.

"Jen Russell has been a true partner in this office with me," District Attorney Dave Sunday told The York Dispatch. "Jen has done so much for this community that it's hard to even quantify it. In regard to child abuse and domestic violence, she is legendary."

Hired in May 2005 by former DA Stan Rebert, Russell was promoted to chief deputy prosecutor in June 2012, then became first assistant district attorney in January 2013, under former DA Tom Kearney, according to King.

She remained first assistant after Sunday took office.

Sunday — who called Russell a natural leader and a stalwart prosecutor — said she received a job offer that was simply too good to pass up.

Russell said she'll be working for a company in the Harrisburg area.

Change of pace: "I've been working in the district attorney's office for almost 14 years and I've really loved working here, and loved the people I've worked with," Russell said. "But this is the only job I've ever had."

Russell was hired by the DA's office straight out of law school, meaning criminal law is the only law she's actively practiced.

"I'd like to expand professionally and get into different areas of the law that I haven't had the opportunity to work in," she said.

Russell said being a prosecutor has been gratifying, albeit difficult, work.

"I don't think people appreciate how hard it is," she said. "Prosecutors are working so hard to do the right thing for the right reasons. And over time, that wears on you."

Sunday said he's excited for Russell, whom he described as his friend and confidante, and happy she has the chance "to seek out things that are meaningful for her."

York County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim Barker speaks during a press conference regarding the arrest and  charges being filed against Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr., at the Pennsylvania State Police Department in Loganville, Pa. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

'Breadth of experience': Sunday said few prosecutors have Barker's breadth of experience or work ethic.

"I can't think of someone who is more dedicated to this district attorney's office than Tim Barker," Sunday said. "He puts in more hours than probably anyone else here to make sure the job gets done."

Barker understands how critical it is to identify the defendants who would be better served by treatment courts than by incarceration, according to his boss.

"He is a leader in areas that are important to me — pretrial diversion, treatment courts, mental-health initiatives and (York City's) Group Violence Intervention (initiative)," Sunday said.

About Barker: Barker was hired by the DA's office in 1998 and has been a chief deputy prosecutor under Rebert, Kearney and Sunday.

The high-profile cases he's prosecuted include murders, elder abuse and consumer fraud.

His work led to a first-degree murder conviction against Zachary Witman, who was 15 years old when he repeatedly and fatally slashed the neck of 13-year-old brother Greg Witman in their New Freedom home on Oct. 2, 1998.

Barker also successfully prosecuted the vehicular homicide case of Joanna Seibert, who killed Northern York County Regional Police Officer David Tome because she was texting and applying makeup while driving.

He was heavily involved in the prosecution of a number of defendants charged in the 1969 race-riot murders of rookie York City Police Officer Henry Schaad and preacher's daughter Lillie Belle Allen, who was visiting from out of state.

Tim Barker

Crash prosecution: Barker was lead prosecutor in the Blossom Valley Farms vehicular homicide case, winning a conviction against the owner of the company and guilty pleas from Blossom Valley's nursery manager and an employee who was driving a truck that crashed into a number of people.

Barker forged a relationship with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the Blossom Valley prosecutions, becoming specialized in prosecuting traffic deaths. His expertise in the field heavily influenced how the York County District Attorney's Office handled fatal crash prosecutions.

His work with the federal agency led Barker to serve as a "prosecutor fellow" for NHTSA's Association of Prosecutor Coordinators, and in 2007 he received an award from NHTSA for his prosecutions.

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