Zachary Witman’s 2007 prison mug shot.
Zachary Witman's 2007 prison mug shot. (Submitted)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has overturned a ruling by York County Judge John C. Uhler granting Zachary Paul Witman a new trial for the 1998 murder of his brother.

Witman, now 25, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2003 for the slashing death of 13-year-old Gregory Paul Witman.

On appeal, Uhler ruled in December 2007 that Witman's trial attorney, David McGlaughlin, was ineffective in his defense of Witman and ordered a new trial.

Uhler specifically held that McGlaughlin erred in stipulating to the admission of the socks Witman was wearing when police arrived at his parent's New Freedom home on Oct. 2, 1998.

The socks previously had been suppressed as evidence for being improperly seized by authorities.

The York County District Attorney's Office appealed Uhler's ruling in June 2008. The appellate court released its decision Monday.

The court held that the admission of the socks was inconsequential in regards to the other "overwhelming evidence" against Witman. The court remanded the case to York County and directed Uhler to review several other issues in Witman's appeal leading to the granting of the new trial. No date has been set for that hearing.

In December 2007, Uhler did not rule on other appeal issues, which included McGlaughlin's alleged ineffectiveness in: not providing testimony of the brothers' "loving relationship"; failing to request nuclear DNA testing of the physical evidence; and failing to call DNA, soil and fiber experts to dispute the findings of expert prosecution witnesses.

Prosecutor Timothy Barker, who tried Witman in 2003, said Tuesday he has no concern about the remaining appeal issues alleging ineffective counsel.

"None whatsoever. The facts of the case and the applicable law support the (Superior) court's findings that allegations of ineffective counsel have no merit," Barker said.

He said the appellate court's "detailed analysis of the facts" in the 14-page decision found "the evidence was so overwhelming that a jury would naturally conclude the defendant was guilty of first-degree murder."

Witman's attorneys could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Witman's father, Ron Witman, said he believed Uhler had "rightfully brought up the socks because they were such a compelling reason to rule on ineffective counsel."

Ron Witman said that, without the socks, it is possible the Luminol footprints - which police said led to a backyard tree where they found the murder weapon and a pair of gloves - also might have been found inadmissible at trial.

"I think they (the Superior Court) misunderstood the significance of the socks in terms of all of the other evidence they claimed was important," he said.

He correctly recalled that, at trial, Barker told the jury the socks were "loaded with evidence" linking Zachary Witman to the killing.

"I find it hard to believe that the jury did not find that significant," Ron Witman said. "We are not in a position to know what the jury would think if the socks were not there."

Ron Witman said his son "maintains his stoicism."

"He knows it means it is that much longer before he gets out," he said.

Zachary Witman and his attorneys now have the options of asking the Superior Court to re-examine the issue, appeal to the state Supreme Court or wait for the hearing in which Uhler will review the remaining ineffective counsel allegations.

TIMELINE OF WITMAN CASE

-- Oct. 2, 1998: Zachary Witman, 15, calls 911 after he says he finds his 13-year-old brother, Gregory, murdered in the laundry room of the family s New Freedom home. Authorities determine Gregory has been slashed 65 times with a penknife that is later found buried under a fir tree in the backyard.

-- Oct. 10, 1998: Southern Regional Police charge Zachary with murder. The teen surrenders to police.

-- June 10, 1999: York County Common Pleas Judge John C. Uhler orders Zachary to stand trial as an adult.

-- May 8, 2003: The murder trial, delayed by repeated appeals to appellate courts about the admissibility of evidence, begins in York before a Montgomery County jury selected because of pre-trial publicity.

-- May 21, 2003: Witman is convicted of first-degree murder. He is 20 by this time.

-- July 8, 2003: Uhler sentences Witman to the mandatory term of life in prison without parole.

-- Nov. 3, 2003: Uhler rejects Witman's post-trial motion to set aside the verdict or grant a new trial.

-- Jan. 11, 2005: The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirms Witman's conviction and sentence.

-- May 12, 2005: Witman's request to appeal is denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

-- Dec. 12, 2005: Witman's request to appeal is denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.

-- Nov. 22, 2006: Witman files his post-conviction relief appeal in York County, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective.

-- Dec. 21, 2007: Uhler, who presided over Witman's 2003 trial, grants Witman's appeal and orders a new trial on the grounds of ineffective counsel.

-- June 2, 2008: The York County District Attorney's Office appeals Uhler's ruling to the state Superior Court.