The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

March 23, 2011

Mifflinburg man now faces third-degree homicide charge

Alleged steak-knife killer bailed out

SELINSGROVE — Seth M. Hornberger claims he was defending himself and a younger friend from an assault when he stabbed a 21-year-old man to death earlier this month, a state police trooper testified Wednesday at a preliminary hearing in Monroe Township.

Immediately following the hearing, Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch withdrew an open count of homicide charge against Hornberger, 18, of Mifflinburg, and amended the complaint to charge him with third-degree homicide and voluntary manslaughter.

“They realize it’s not a first- or second-degree case,” Williamsport defense attorney Edward “E.J.” Rymsza said of the withdrawal of charges that carry a maximum life sentence. “It’s a clear case of self-defense, or defense of another.”

Despite the legal maneuvering, neither police nor prosecutors have explained what motive Alan Martin, 21, of Hummels Wharf, would have to break into the Hummels Wharf apartment March 13 and attack the teens.

According to Piecuch, the penalty for third-degree murder with a deadly weapon in the statutory range is 90 months to 40 years and for voluntary manslaughter, 54 months to 72 months.

Generally defined, third-degree murder is a killing in which the attacker meant to harm the victim, but did not intend for the victim to die, and voluntary manslaughter, a killing in which the attacker had no prior intent or deliberation to cause a death.

The reduced charges allowed the defense to ask for bail, which District Judge Edward Mihalik approved.

Hornberger, who had been in Snyder County jail since his arrest March 15, was granted release on $50,000 bail as the case moves toward trial in Snyder County Court.

He’s accused of stabbing Martin during an altercation at the apartment of Thomas Bingaman, 36, of 3½ Pennsylvania Ave.

Martin died at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, two days later.

Montour County Coroner Scott Lynn testified it was a homicide due to “penetrating head trauma” from a 5-inch long serrated steak knife.

Toxicology results on Martin are pending, he said.

Selinsgrove-based Trooper Matthew Miller responded to the crime scene at about 7 a.m. March 13 and testified to seeing Michael Lepley, 16, outside in front of the apartment building.

In the kitchen area of the second-floor apartment, Miller said, Martin was lying on his back in a pool of blood with a knife protruding from his temple.

“I could only see the handle of the knife, ” he testified, adding that Martin was unconscious, but breathing heavily.

Bingaman was inside the apartment, Miller said, and Susan Rudy, of Selinsgrove, had also been there but had left to call for help.

Defendant’s mom called police

Lead investigator Trooper Richard Blair testified that Hornberger’s mother, Donna, called police to report that her son was involved in a stabbing and was turning himself in.

Blair interviewed a “sobbing” Hornberger at the police station in Selinsgrove.

No attorney was present, but Hornberger’s parents were at his side while the interview was videotaped.

Hornberger said the apartment renter, Bingaman, told him and Lepley not to allow Martin inside.

When Martin showed up that morning at about 6, Lepley and Hornberger argued until Martin kicked down the door and came into the apartment.

The trio got into a physical altercation, which Blair, the trooper, said Lepley reported lasted for about an hour.

During the scuffle, Martin allegedly choked both Hornberger and Lepley. Police photographed visible red marks around Lepley’s neck.

Hornberger said Martin had Lepley in a choke hold, and when he was unable to get him off his friend, grabbed a knife from the kitchen table and stabbed him.

Blair said Lepley corroborated Hornberger’s account.

Although there was evidence the apartment door was damaged, police could not say when it occurred.

Martin’s family disputes Hornberger’s version of events. They say Martin was allowed at Bingaman’s apartment and the door was damaged earlier.

The defense called no witnesses.

Relatives from both sides, including Hornberger’s parents and three sisters, and Martin’s parents, Patricia Grenfell and Karl Martin, and three of his sisters, listened intently to the testimony.

Outside the courtroom, Rymsza said Hornberger and Lepley were best friends who had stayed the night at Bingaman’s apartment. He did not believe Hornberger and Martin knew each other.

— E-mail comments to mmoore@dailyitem.com

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