28 March 2013

Zach Witman deserves a new trial

My involvement in the Witman case began in the fall of 2010 when I was contacted by Rick Lee of the York Daily Record.  Not being native to the area, I had never heard about the murder of Greg Witman that occurred in 1998.

Synopsis- On 02OCT98 @ approximately 3:10 PM, 13 year old Greg Witman arrived home from school.  At 3:15 PM a friend called the house for him and the phone was answered by Greg's 15 year old brother Zach who was home sick and sleeping in his parents bedroom.  Zach told her that he did not think his brother was home yet.  After hanging up he heard a commotion and went downstairs to investigate.  At the bottom of the steps by the front door he saw a large quantity of blood along with his brother's jacket and backpack.  He began to look for Greg and found him in the laundry room.  Investigation would reveal that Greg had been stabbed approximately 100 times and his head was almost totally decapitated.  At 3:17 PM a hysterical Zach calls 911 and tells them he found his brother, his neck is cut and he thinks he is dead.  After being told to "help his brother" several times by the 911 dispatcher, a reluctant Zach eventually does.  The blood then ends up on his clothes and is a major part of what  is used by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to prosecute and convict Zach of First Degree Murder in 2003.  Zach, now almost 30 years old, is still in prison.

Obviously what is the most damning evidence against Zach is the the above pictured yellow handled knife that was recovered from the back yard of the Witman residence after midnight on 03OCT98.  The knife was
found buried just feet from the house, wrapped up in what was first thought to be a pair of socks but later found to be soccer gloves.  The mound concealing the blood soaked knife and gloves, had gone unnoticed during the daytime search of the scene.  It was only when Luminol, a chemical used to detect the possible presence of blood was used, that the Commonwealth was able to see "footprints" leading to and from the area where the weapon was recovered.  The problem was that the troopers mixing and spraying the Luminol had never used it in the field before.  The person photographing the Luminol had never photographed it before, and the detective in charge of the case had never documented it in the field before.  The only acceptable way for a Luminol reaction to be recorded is by photograph or video.  No video was taken and no photographs that were taken turned out.  Typical protocol, because Luminol is known for false positives, is for any positive result to be tested with other tests to confirm that the recovery is in fact blood and not a reaction to other oxidants such as bleach and other household cleaners.  No tests of any type were conducted on the areas that they say tested positive from the Luminol in the Witman case.  In October of 2002, a piece of carpet from the Witman porch that had been reported to have contained blood due to the Luminol testing was tested by the Pennsylvania  State Police Crime Lab and found to contain no blood.

Back to the knife and gloves, they were found to contain only the blood of Greg, and not Zach.  There was a 5MM cut in the back of the left glove that did not correspond to an injury on Zach.  As a matter of fact, after being transported to the hospital, Zach was found to have no physical injuries what so ever except for two small scratches on his left ring finger.  These scratches did not correspond to any damage to the gloves.  No forensic examination of the knife was ever conducted, nor was the knife ever again touched by human hands after being boxed for evidence.

This is the original story in the York Daily Record by Rick Lee.  In this article I discuss the injuries and my thoughts on the ability of the weapon recovered to produce those injuries.

In mid February of this year, I was contacted by retired NYPD Homicide Detective turned private investigator Jay Salpeter in reference to joining the Witman Defense Team.  Jay, along with other Witman Defense Team member Lonnie Soury, are best known for their work that helped free Damion Echols of the West Memphis Three.  Since that time, I have been a consultant for the defense in reference to edged weapons and interpersonal violence.  It is now up to the Pennsylvania Supreme court to decide whether or not Zach should get a new trial based on ineffective counsel.  During Zach's trial, not one expert witness was called to refute any of the evidence offered by the Commonwealth.

 On 27MAR13, I took part in a press conference along with Ron and Sue Witman (Greg and Zach's parents), Jay Salpeter, Lonnie Soury, and friends and family held at the Yorktowne Hotel in York PA.  The reason for the press conference was to announce that we are reopening the investigation and launching a website; Zach Witman, for people to educate themselves on the case.  The site also includes a tip line for people to call with information about the case, it is 717-819-6006 , an anonymous donor is offering a $100,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of Greg's real killer.

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