Pennsylvania Supreme Court grants convicted Felton-area killer new trial
A York County man in prison for the murder of his wife successfully appealed his conviction to the state's highest court.
On Friday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Joseph Bernard Fitzpatrick III, 48, of Chanceford Township, must receive a new trial. The justices found that prosecutors presented prejudicial evidence at his 2015 trial for the drowning death of his wife, 43-year-old Annemarie Fitzpatrick, in 2012.
Fitzpatrick claimed that his wife drowned after their ATV accidentally rolled into the water at a portion of Muddy Creek near their home on June 6, 2012. The prosecution claimed Fitzpatrick staged the scene to make the death appear accidental.
Five Supreme Court justices joined the majority opinion; two justices dissented.
Much of Fitzpatrick's appeal effort focused on two pieces of evidence presented by prosecutors at trial: an email and note, both written by Annemarie Fitzpatrick shortly before her death.
The email, titled "If something happens to me," detailed an incident in which she claimed she was almost struck by a large falling log that Fitzpatrick was standing near. The note simply read: "If anything happens to me — Joe."
Fitzpatrick's attorney, Chris Ferro, argued throughout the appellate process that both pieces of evidence were hearsay and should not have been allowed during Fitzpatrick's trial. The York County District Attorney's Office previously acknowledged that the evidence was hearsay, but argued it was correctly allowed during trial because of a legal exception that permits such evidence when it speaks to the victim's state of mind.
Justice David Wecht, who wrote the Supreme Court's majority opinion, agreed with the defense's argument.
"The note permeated the entire trial," Wecht wrote. "Simply put, it is hearsay."
Wecht also noted that the state Supreme Court was not convinced that the York County jury that convicted Fitzpatrick would have done so had jurors not seen Annemarie's note.
"Given the significance of the parties’ dispute over the manner of Annemarie’s death, the Commonwealth has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her note — the most important piece of the prosecution’s evidence relevant to that critical question — had no impact upon the jury’s verdict," he wrote.
Fitzpatrick is being held at the SCI Somerset prison in Somerset County.