New evidence for a new trial?
Man's statements cast doubt on 1994 slaying conviction
Friday, April 07, 2006
BY PETE SHELLEMOf The Patriot-News
For years, Joseph H. Baumgartner Sr. lived with knowledge he thought could be the key to a murder.
But when serial killer Andrew Dillon pleaded guilty to killing four elderly women in 1998, Baumgartner thought his information was no longer needed.
What Baumgartner didn't realize until last month was
that Dillon was never charged in the March 11, 1994, murder of M.
Geneva Long, 67.
Dillon was staying in a room about 50 feet from Long's apartment on North Second Street in Harrisburg when she was brutally beaten and set on fire. He later pleaded guilty to killing three Dauphin County women and a Scranton woman in much the same manner.
But David Gladden, a mentally retarded Harrisburg man, is serving life in prison for Long's slaying.
Gladden's attorney, Royce Morris, hopes Baumgartner holds the key to unlocking Gladden's prison cell.
Baumgartner said that on the evening Long was killed, Dillon saw him at a downtown diner and asked him to provide an alibi.
Corroborating his story is Dillon's own statement to police, in which he said when Long was murdered, he was with a with a big white cabdriver named Joe.
"I was down at the Stop Lunch... He walked in, he nudged me and said, 'Look, I been here with you all night,'" Baumgartner told The Patriot-News. "I told him, 'I wasn't here all night, I just got here maybe 10 or 15 minutes ago.' But he said, 'I was here when you came in and I been sitting here talking.'"
Moments later, he said, they heard fire engines going down Second Street to Long's nearby apartment.
Baumgartner said he and Dillon walked to the scene, where firefighters were extinguishing the fire.
"He's standing there, he's looking at it and he's got a look in his eye, you know what I mean?" Baumgartner said. "I heard somebody come out and say there was a body in there. I knew it was him. When they finally got him, I thought they got him on all of them and then I found out they got this other guy in jail for this one. That's not right."
Baumgartner called Morris after seeing articles in The Patriot-News last month. The articles concerned Gladden's plight. Now a cook at The Spot restaurant on North Second Street, he said his boss encouraged him to call after seeing the articles.
He didn't know -- until a reporter told him Wednesday -- that Dillon used him in his statement shortly after the murder.
Dillon was living in a halfway house at the time and spending weekend furloughs with his girlfriend, Debra Hammaker, in a room about 50 feet from Long's rooftop apartment.
He would have had access to Long's broken front door through a hallway adjoining her apartment that served as a fire escape.
In a March 22, 1994 statement to police, Dillon said he had checked into the Community Corrections Center on Cameron Street, wandered around the city and went to the Stop Lunch, where he saw a man he knew only as Joe, who told him there was a fire down the street.
He provided an accurate description of Baumgartner.
"He's a big guy, he drives a cab, he's white, about 35,
about 6'4", 6'2", about 300 pounds, Yellow Cab. I think his name is
Joe," Dillon told police.
Baumgartner said he told a police officer about Dillon's statements, but the officer never followed up with him. He could not identify the officer.
Morris filed a petition yesterday saying that Gladden should be given a new trial based on Baumgartner's statements.
"The sad part about this case in my mind is that the
circumstantial evidence was there from the very beginning implicating
Andrew Dillon, and through either faulty police work or sheer
negligence, the wrong man stands convicted," Morris said.
Morris previously asked for DNA testing because a pathologist believed Long was sexually assaulted, as were Dillon's other victims. Those tests are still being performed.
Although Gladden is technically out of time to file appeals, Morris argued in court papers that the mentally retarded man is incapable of understanding the trial and appeals process.
Morris said he thinks Baumgartner's statement could be the new evidence needed to get Gladden back in court. He said that if the DNA testing comes back as a wash, he will ask Dauphin County Judge Jeannine Turgeon to grant him a hearing on the merits of the appeal.
First Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo agreed that there appear to be questions about the case and concurred in the request for DNA testing. He said his office would follow up the new evidence.
"We will examine this new evidence carefully," he said. "We have a solemn obligation to equally ensure that the guilty do not escape responsibility and that the innocent do not suffer. We will continue to investigate this case to ensure that justice is done."
Dillon was charged with one murder and identified as the prime suspect in three others two months before Gladden's trial. But no one, including Gladden's previous attorney, mentioned Dillon during the trial.
According to a psychologist, Gladden functions at a third-grade level. Gladden was convicted in 1995 of murdering Long based on the testimony of one witness.
A small-time burglar, James A. Carson Jr., has since recanted his confession to helping Gladden burglarize Long's apartment.
Carson says police fed him details of the crime and coerced him into confessing, threatening him with the death penalty. Carson was sentenced to 2 to 10 years in prison for his plea to third-degree murder.
Police were led to Gladden and Carson by Donald "Goofball" Walborn, a child molester and thief acting as a police informant. Walborn faced the possibility of more than 100 years in prison for the rapes of two 12-year-old girls when he identified Gladden as a suspect.
Walborn never testified, since police classified him as a "reliable confidential informant," but was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison after his cooperation.
He was released in July, but was arrested several weeks later on accusations he molested a retarded 19-year-old man in a Harrisburg rooming house. He remains in Dauphin County Prison on those pending charges.
PETE SHELLEM: 255-8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org
||Truth in Justice