A senior judge will hear oral arguments for DNA testing in the exoneration case of Scott Schaeffer next month.
Schaeffer, 54, of Sunbury has proclaimed his innocence in the 1986 murder of Rickey Wolfe. His attorney, Joel Wiest, of Sunbury, will now go to court to argue why DNA testing should be conducted on 20 pieces of evidence collected but never tested for DNA.
Dauphin County Senior Judge Lawrence Clark scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Nov. 6 at the Northumberland County Courthouse. Clark has been reviewing briefs filed by Wiest and the state Attorney General's Office for the past few months.
"I can only express our thanks to the Honorable Court for the continued opportunity to present our case on my client's behalf," Wiest said Friday. "We truly believe we are in the right both legally and morally in our quest to have my client exonerated in this matter. We are extremely confident that DNA evidence in this case will prove beyond any doubt that my client is innocent of all charges previously brought against him."
Wolfe was found beaten to death in December 1986 at a boat launch in Montandon. Schaeffer and Sunbury resident Billy Hendricks were convicted of the crime. Both were granted new trials after new evidence was discovered showing one of the witnesses admitted to lying at the time of trial. Instead of taking another trial, Schaeffer and Hendricks took plea agreements and were released from prison after 17 years.
Schaeffer said he only took the agreement because he wanted to be released from jail.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Schmidt asked the court to deny the request to test 20 pieces of evidence collected but never tested. The state argued even if it is discovered Schaeffer was not there, he can’t be exonerated because he was not found guilty. The state argued that individuals who plead guilty are eligible for DNA testing but in the case of Schaeffer it should be denied because he pleaded no contest to the murder charge in 2004.
Wiest contends Schaeffer’s criminal history shows different.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Schaeffer, although he never admitted guilt, still bears all the burdens of those wrongfully convicted or those who sacrificed their innocence by pleading guilty to crimes which they did not commit," Wiest wrote in an argument last month. "Schaeffer cannot go on school trips with his step-daughter or his grandchild. He cannot vote, own a gun, or retain high-level clearances necessary to work in various areas necessary for his occupation as a union welder.”
Schaeffer said he was happy with Clark's decision and thanked the senior judge.
"I am extremely grateful for Judge Clark's ruling to have oral argument," an emotional Schaeffer said Friday. "This affords us the opportunity to present legal grounds have DNA tested and once and for all prove my innocence to everyone. I am unbelievably grateful to the community and my friends and family for all the support I receive. It is nice to be out and about and have a stranger come up to me and say they are behind me and are praying for me."
If Clark grants testing and it would show that various other suspects or co-conspirators’ DNA could also help the case of the disappearance of Barbara Miller, Wiest wrote in a brief to the court.
Miller, 30, of Sunbury, went missing in 1989 days after calling Schaeffer's then-fiancee to inform her she knew Schaeffer was innocent, according to court documents.
The state attorney general's office does not comment on ongoing cases.