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Kopriva to render decision on death penalty in Jackson case

Blair County District Attorney David Gorman yesterday asked Judge Jolene G. Kopriva to reconsider her earlier decision preventing two women accused of killing Shari Jackson in May of 2001 from facing the death penalty.
Gorman told Kopriva that Marie Seilhamer and Kristin Edumundson executed a plan to kill Jackson that went “above and beyond” just causing death and that a jury should determine the penalty for the crime.
Gorman said that according to the defendants’ statements, Seilhamer, Edmundson, and Jackson drove to a remote area in Clearfield County on May 5, 2001. Seilhamer struck Jackson twice with a baseball bat, then Edmundson and Jackson scuffled before Seilhamer delivered the final fatal blow with the bat. Edmundson then cut Jackson’s neck in what she said was an attempt to cut off Jackson’s head to prevent identification of the body. Gorman said Edmundson was upset that Jackson had struck up a relationship with another female. He argued that the two planned the killing so they could “send a message,” and that they had selected items to use in the killing that would “cause pain and suffering” and “go above and beyond” just killing.
“How the killing was planned and carried out was enough to prove an aggravating circumstance” that the law requires, Gorman said.
Gorman said Jackson suffered six stab wounds to her body that could have been inflicted solely to cause pain.
“A jury could conclude that this was not done just to cut off the head,” he said. ” At that point there would be evidence that could conclude torture was involved.”
Gorman also said that if the stab wounds were merely to prevent identification, “Why didn’t she try to remove the hands” as well.
Kopriva responded that, according to the prosecution’s own witness at a previous hearing, “After the second blow, she was unconscious. How do you get torture out of that?”
“The question is not consciousness but what is the intent of the person… is it to inflict pain?” Gorman replied.
Edumundson’s attorney, Terry Despoy, told Kopriva that Gorman was “throwing a curve ball and trying to get a second bite at the apple.”
“There’s nothing new here. The Commonwealth’s trying to piggyback and bootstrap,” Despoy said. “If we have to look that hard to find torture, it’s not here.”
Attorney Tom Dickey, representing Seilhamer, said the details of the case could cause the public to believe the death penalty is appropriate even if the case doesn’t meet the legal standard.
“That’s why we don’t just let a jury decide… because there’s too much of this eye for an eye stuff today. We, as a fairer society…we’re going to let a court decide,” he said.
Dickey said, “There’s never any evidence of them having an intent to make this girl suffer.”
Both Despoy and Dickey expressed their objection to Gorman being allowed to take another shot at Kopriva’s earlier decision prohibiting the prosecution from seeking the death penalty in this case. As Gorman gave his opening remarks, Dickey stood to object to the proceeding, complaining that the defense could not request a new hearing, for example, on a pre-trial motion. Despoy, in turn, stated that, in requesting yesterday’s hearing, Gorman had originally argued that the law did not allow Kopriva the discretion to make the ruling excluding the death penalty.
When Kopriva opened the proceedings, she said the hearing was for “determining the evidentiary basis for the aggravating circumstance” in the case, and that the legal precedent “requires some basis of evidence for the filing of notification” when the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
Gorman said he did not “disagree with the court that it is proper (for the court) to make a determination (regarding the death penalty in this case). I differ with the court’s opinion that the intent of Miss Edmundson was to prevent identification and that the intent of Miss Seilhamer was (only) to kill.”
Kopriva did not indicate how soon she might render her decision. Gorman said that if she does not reverse her previous decision, he will “strongly consider an appeal.” He said he has discussed the situation with Jackson’s family “at length,” and that the family would support a decision to appeal the ruling even if that meant the case would be delayed.