By Marcia Moore

The Daily Item

LEWISBURG -- A Union County judge has dismissed the burglary charge against accused killer Joel R. Snider, effectively throwing out the potential for a death sentence if he's convicted of the July 2010 slaying of New Berlin yoga master, Sudharman.

State prosecutor Frank Fina said he will appeal President Judge Michael H. Sholley's ruling.

"The law and the facts are on our side," Fina said Thursday. "Snider broke in by slashing a screen door, snuck in during the middle of the night and killed this man in his sleep."

While "very pleased" with the ruling that takes the death penalty off the table, defense attorney Edward "E.J." Rymsza, of Williamsport, said he anticipated an appeal.

He and co-counsel William Miele argued that the prosecution could not prove a burglary occurred at the New Berlin yoga studio, Integral Yoga Center at 428 Market St., where Sudharman, 70, also lived and was killed.

He was found dead from several gunshot wounds on July 5, 2010, wrapped in a bed sheet and duct tape on the floor of the studio's living quarters.

Snider, 35, of St. Louis, was a former yoga student who allegedly outlined his murderous plan in three emails he sent days before the killing to Swami Karunananda, a staff member at Yogaville in Buckingham County, Va., which Sudharman helped establish in the 1980s.

Snider allegedly complained that Sudharman, also known as Joe Fenton, "tormented" him and Karunananda allowed it. In the last email, sent one day before Sudharman's body was discovered, he allegedly wrote, "May evil be utterly destroyed."

He is charged with an open count of homicide.

The felony burglary charge Snider initially faced was an aggravating circumstance that allowed the commonwealth to seek death as a punishment if he's convicted of first-degree homicide.

The defense argued that since the public had access to the building for yoga lessons and the prosecution was unable to narrow Sudharman's time of death, the crime of burglary should be dismissed.

Sholley agreed, ruling that it's the commonwealth's burden to establish that the living quarters where Sudharman was fatally shot was not open to the public at the time of the slaying.

The debate over whether the death penalty is appropriate is typical of the way capital punishment comes into play in Pennsylvania. A Philadelphia Inquirer review of 2,000 homicide cases found that just 3 percent of first-degree murder cases that went to a jury ended in a jury choosing death. The death penalty can be sought only in first-degree murder cases, in which prosecutors must prove that the killing was intentional.

Sudharman was such a well-known figure in the Valley that former President Judge Harold F. Woelfel Jr. and District Attorney D. Peter Johnson recused themselves and the case was turned over to the state Attorney General's Office to prosecute.

• Email comments to mmoore@dailyitem.com

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