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Former Rep. Steve Stetler granted new trial

David Weissman

More than three years after he was released from prison following political corruption charges, former state Rep. Steve Stetler has been granted a new trial, according to online court filings.

Former state Rep. Steve Stetler, more than five years since being convicted on public corruption charges, will receive a new trial.

The former York County Democrat spent 16 months in York County Prison after he was convicted in 2012 of misusing public funds and state employees for legislative campaigns while chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee from 2002 to 2006.

Stetler maintained his innocence throughout and since the trial, but the state Superior and Supreme courts declined to hear his appeals in late 2014 and early 2015, respectively.

According to online court records, Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Cherry vacated Stetler's judgment of sentence on April 20 and awarded him a new trial, though no date has been set.

Cherry's written opinion notes Stetler received ineffective counsel when his attorney agreed to allow former Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover, who presided over the trial, into the deliberation room to answer jurors' questions.

Cherry took over the case after Hoover retired in 2016. Hoover died shortly after his retirement.

Cherry wrote in his opinion that Hoover was a man of honor and integrity, though his responses in the jury room "deviated from the vaguely established limits of discussion addressed with counsel and included error and prejudicial reference to facts."

Attorney John Uhler, who is now representing Stetler, said his client has faced a long legal journey but a new trial is the right result.

Stetler could not be reached for comment.

During the initial trial, about three dozen political, business and community leaders testified as character witnesses for Stetler, including former Gov. Ed Rendell, current Gov. Tom Wolf and former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister.

Chronister, a Republican, said Tuesday that the judge granting Stetler a new trial is great news because he deserves vindication.

Based on what he knew about Stetler's character and reputation, Chronister said, he doubted "very seriously that things happened the way they were brought about in court."

A jury found Stetler guilty of conflict of interest, criminal conspiracy and four separate counts of theft.

He represented York City and its surrounding area from 1991 to 2006 before stepping down to head the Pennsylvania Economy League. He served at the league until being chosen by Rendell to run the state Revenue Department.

Stetler became head of the state Department of Revenue in November 2008, but he resigned from that post in December 2009, just hours before criminal charges against him were announced.

While Hoover ultimately delivered Stetler's sentence, the former judge was quick to point out Stetler wasn't the mastermind behind the Pennsylvania Legislature's public corruption scandal, often referred to as Bonusgate, which resulted in jail time for numerous Republican and Democratic caucus members in the state.

York City Councilman Henry Nixon, a longtime friend of Stetler's, said Tuesday he is thrilled to hear about the new trial.

Nixon said he doesn't know what was going through the jury members' minds when they found Stetler guilty.

Nixon and Chronister both said they'd be willing to testify on Stetler's behalf at the new trial.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.