EDITORIAL: What's good for the duck ...

York Dispatch

It seems the only thing Joseph Fitzpatrick III hadn't done in the days before his wife died is string up an Acme anvil and drop it on her head.

Hours before Annemarie Fitzpatrick died (in what her husband maintains was an ATV accident), she wrote, dated and signed a note in her day-planner that said, "If anything happens to me — Joe."

That morning, she wrote an email to herself with the subject line "if something happens to me."

"Joe and I are having marital problems," it stated. "Last night we almost had an accident where a huge log fell on me. Joe was on the pile with the log and had me untying a tarp directly below."

Oh, and it was later revealed that "Joe" was having an extramarital affair and had $1.7 million in life insurance policies for his Felton-area wife.

Boy did that look like a duck, swim like a duck, and quack like a duck.

Nobody was too surprised when a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.

But all of the above was circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors failed to establish her death was "unlawful."

The forensic pathologist who testified at trial could only say Annemarie's injuries were consistent with both being involved in a vehicle crash and being assaulted.

Despite the damning circumstantial evidence, proving a death was unlawful is a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction in Pennsylvania.

And that's why Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn granted a judgment of acquittal last week. And now it's quite possible Joe Fitzpatrick will be released from jail, and soon.

Unfathomable, right?

This newspaper and its readers have questions for the elected York County District Attorney Tom Kearney and his prosecution team that handled the case.

How did this happen? Did someone drop the ball on a case that seems like it should've been a slam dunk?

In a time when the tiniest speck of physical evidence can convict a murderer, was there really no way to prove that Annemarie's injuries didn't come from an ATV crash? How can we stop this from happening again?

Was this some rare scenario in which the science just couldn't stand up in court, resulting in the protections afforded under our judicial system unfairly benefitting a man who certainly seems guilty?

The jury found Joe Fitzpatrick guilty of murder. But now he could walk free.

Guess who isn't coming to the phone?

Kearney and his prosecution team have been speaking behind Kyle King, the office's spokesman, who says they have nothing to say other than the appeal they've filed and an anemic statement for the media.

King told us this is a topic that needs to be aired in court, but what if we don't have a chance to hear that?

Kearney and his team probably recognize that their appeal sounds like double jeopardy — trying someone twice for the same homicide — and could be illegal.

Surely they realize the Fourth Estate — and the public behind it — want more answers.

They're public prosecutors and this is a high-profile, public matter.

Kearney has plenty to say when he's on the winning side of a trial, so he should stop ducking this case and tell us what happened and how they're going to fix it.

And if Kearney fails to shore up the conviction, let's hope Joe Fitzpatrick — a la O.J. Simpson — pays in civil court.

Even if the insurance companies are able to duck out of paying Fitzpatrick the $1.7 million, justice is a more valuable currency for a woman who seemed to make the prosecutors' job pretty easy.