A LIFE REGAINED
Saturday, November 22, 2003
BY PETE SHELLEM
Of The Patriot-News
HANOVER - For the first time in more than 16 years, Barry Laughman will be surrounded today by family and friends rather than bars, guards and other inmates.
Laughman, 40, had been serving a life sentence after being convicted of raping and killing an 85-year-old distant relative known as Aunt Edna. Yesterday, Adams County District Attorney Paul Dean agreed to release him on bail and electronic monitoring.
The Patriot-News tracked down DNA in Germany that proved Laughman didn't commit the crime.
"It's great to be coming out," Laughman said as he left the county prison yesterday. "It just took too long. Now I've got to go live my life."
At his brother's Hanover home, Laughman was greeted by family members he hadn't seen in years, including his father, Oscar Laughman, 78. The elder Laughman's medical condition made it too difficult to visit his son at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview.
"I never thought I'd live to see this day," Oscar Laughman said as he hugged Barry. "He didn't get to see his mother before she died and he almost didn't get to see me."
Dean said the investigation into Edna Laughman's death is continuing.
Although Laughman has been freed on bail, the charges have not yet been dismissed. Laughman's attorney, David J. Foster, said he is confident the details will be worked out and Laughman will be cleared.
"In my view he is innocent," Foster said after yesterday's hearing. "My hope is that the district attorney and I can agree on evidentiary matters and will be able to resolve this in a streamlined manner like today."
Laughman broke down in tears when President Judge John Kuhn asked him if he had any objections to the release order.
Laughman's release came yesterday afternoon after authorities made a conference call to Germany.
Dean had remained concerned that the DNA might have been mixed up in its trek from a public defender's refrigerator to Penn State and eventually to Leipzig, Germany.
Dean and Laughman's attorney spoke via conference call with a former Penn State anthropology professor who preserved the DNA extracted from semen found on Edna Laughman's body. After the call, Dean agreed that Laughman should be released.
Dr. Mark Stoneking, who teaches at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, said he had extracted the DNA and requested comparison samples from Barry and Edna, but never heard back from Barry's previous attorneys.
Stoneking said he preserved the samples because he did not know whether they would be needed in the future.
The sample was compared earlier this month to Barry's DNA at Orchid Cellmark Laboratories in Maryland. A new form of testing showed that it was male DNA material but did not come from Barry Laughman.
After Dean agreed that the DNA had been properly stored and handled, Kuhn ordered Laughman released on $30,000 unsecured bail. A hearing scheduled for Dec. 4 on the merits of the case was postponed until the attorneys agree they are ready.
Dean said investigators are working vigorously to determine whether Laughman is innocent, but stopped short of exonerating him.
Some investigators had been troubled by the case for years. The mildly retarded Laughman functions at the level of a 10-year-old, according to psychologists.
Weeks after the 1987 murder, Laughman confessed to a state trooper, who told him his fingerprint might have been found on a cigarette boxtop found at the murder scene.
Former trooper Jack Holtz, who secured the confession, said he targeted Laughman because he noticed he couldn't bend his pinkie properly. Holtz made the link after observing three bruises on Edna Laughman's arm.
The trooper retired in 1992 while under investigation for his conduct in another murder case in which the convict was eventually freed.
After Laughman confessed, police dismissed evidence that contradicted the confession. Laughman's blood type, for example, is different than the semen left on Edna Laughman's body.
Instead of performing further tests, state police chemist Janice Roadcap offered various theories as to why that did not exclude Barry as the perpetrator. Experts consulted by The Patriot-News said her testimony had no basis in science.
Roadcap has been accused of lying and doctoring evidence in a lawsuit filed by Steven Crawford, the Harrisburg man who spent 28 years in prison, based primarily on her testimony in a murder case.
Crawford was released last year after Roadcap's lab notes, which contradicted testimony in his case, surfaced.
Both Roadcap and Holtz have avoided comment on the Laughman case.
Witnesses have told police they saw a stranger in Edna Laughman's yard around the time she was killed. While police initially searched for that man, they suggested at trial that it was a coincidence.
Now that he has been released, Barry Laughman will return to the job he held at Miller Chemical until his arrest on Sept. 8, 1987.
Charles Svec, president of the firm, said he offered Laughman the job because everyone who worked with him has always believed he did not commit the crime.
Laughman, who is described by all who knew him at the time as extremely nervous, showed up for work the day Edna's body was found, the day after he supposedly killed her.
"He acted perfectly normal the next day," Svec said. "The general consensus was there was no way he could have done this."
PETE SHELLEM: 255-8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Patriot News Editorial
DNA brings forth justice
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
It's a measure of the importance of DNA evidence and its strength as a determinant of innocence or guilt that Barry Laughman is free on bail today.
Laughman, convicted of the murder of a distant relative largely on the basis of a confession that was contradicted by other evidence, spent 16 years in state prison before DNA testing recently showed that semen found on the victim's body was not his.
DNA was extracted from the semen around the time of the trial by a Penn State professor who's now teaching in Germany, but it was never compared to Laughman's until Patriot-News reporter Pete Shellem tracked down the professor last summer.
Adams County District Attorney Paul Dean agreed to have Laughman released on bail after conferring with the professor by telephone last week.
While the charges have not been dismissed, Dean said his investigators are working vigorously to determine whether Laughman is innocent.
Laughman, who is mildly retarded, confessed to the murder of Edna Laughman after a state trooper told him a fingerprint with a pattern similar to his was found on an empty cigarette boxtop at the crime scene. There was plenty of evidence, including eyewitness testimony, to dispute the facts as Laughman stated them, but once he confessed it was dismissed.
And a state police chemist offered various theories -- all since discredited by experts contacted by Shellem -- for the semen containing a different blood type from Laughman's.
Dean is to be commended for acting promptly after the results of the DNA analysis became known earlier this month, and for his consent in having Laughman freed pending a final determination of the charges. The purpose of the criminal justice system should be to identify and punish the guilty and clear the innocent, and Dean clearly subscribes to that principle.
DNA sampling and analysis in recent years has greatly aided that process of discernment. We can only hope that, after apparently clearing Laughman, it will help investigators close this case for good.
|Who Killed Edna Laughman?