SUNBURY — A senior judge wants to know why the state Attorney General's Office doesn't want to test DNA evidence in the 30-year-old homicide case of Rickey Wolfe.
Nearly 50 supporters of Scott Schaeffer, 53, of Sunbury, sat in the room at the Northumberland County Courthouse on Wednesday as his attorney Joel Wiest and Deputy Attorney General Christopher Schmidt spent nearly and hour and 30 minutes providing oral arguments about Schaeffer's exoneration case.
"What is the government afraid of?" Dauphin County Senior Judge Lawrence Clark asked Schmidt.
The evidence was collected at the 1986 murder scene of Wolfe, 30, of Mifflinburg, who was beaten to death near a boat launch in Montandon and was never tested.
"Isn't this a case of let the chips fall where the chips will fall?" Clark asked Schmidt.
Schmidt argued Schaeffer can't be exonerated of the murder because he is not guilty of it. He said Schaeffer made a deal in 2004 after he was granted a new trial to plead no contest to the murder, thus releasing him from prison after 15 years.
Wiest countered and said that Schaeffer is still being punished because he has a record which prevents him from spending time in schools with his grandchildren, daughter or any other family relative. Wiest said Schaeffer is not allowed to vote nor purchase a gun to hunt with his grandchildren.
Wiest also said that after Schaeffer agreed to the no-contest plea, Schaeffer spent an additional two years behind bars because he refused to tell the parole board he was guilty.
"He is far from being free," Wiest said. "My client (Schaeffer) continues to be punished for this crime. A crime he did not commit."
Schmidt said testing DNA from the scene would not prove anything because those that were arrested for the crime have either served their sentence or were found not guilty.
William Hendricks, Robert Hummel, Mark Byers, Thomas Yoder and Schaeffer were all arrested for the murder.
Hummel spent nearly 10 years in prison after testifying against Schaeffer. Hummel recanted his testimony and said he lied under oath. Byers and Yoder were found not guilty by a jury and Hendricks spent 15 years locked up before getting granted a new trial with Schaeffer. Hendricks also pleaded no-contest in 2004.
Wiest said the state is assuming they have everyone responsible for the murder.
"What if none of those people have their DNA on any evidence collected," Wiest said.
Clark said if that is the case then in the Schaeffer case it would be a "huge miscarriage of justice that took place."
Schmidt argued that DNA testing was available to Schaeffer in 1990 and in 2004 but Schaeffer never asked for testing. He argued that Schaeffer missed his opportunity and that filing the motion to test the evidence is his right, he is just too late.
Clark said that DNA testing in 1990 and in 2004 was different from current testing could possibly reveal there may be other defendants involved in the murder.
Clark listened to both attorneys, said he will review transcripts from a 2004 hearing that had just become available on Wednesday and will issue a decision within 20 days.
Clark explained that whatever he decides in the case would be the first decision made in DNA testing of this nature across the commonwealth.
"This is it right here and right now," Clark said. "This will have profound consequences across the state."
Rickey Wolfe's son, Tim Wolfe, of Mifflinburg, said he listened to Clark and he respected everything he said. "He (Clark) spoke the truth," Wolfe said. "I come to these hearings to see Scott (Schaeffer) get justice and I only want those responsible to be held accountable. I think Judge Clark was correct in everything he was saying."
Schaeffer said he sat next to Wiest and listened to Clark with tears in his eyes.
"It is finally nice to feel like justice is being served with a judge that has an open mind," Schaeffer said. "I thank all my supporters Joel (Wiest) and Judge Clark for continuing to allow me a chance to tell my story."