Pennsylvania has approximately 500 juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole residing in their prisons. That represents 25% of all the juveniles incarcerated for life without parole in the United States. What does that say about Pennsylvania”s judicial system? Nothing good. As I once said about Suffolk County, Long Island in the Martin Tankleff case: Suffolk County is like Selma, Alabama was during the civil rights movement, only Selma changed. Well, Alabama may have changed, but not Pennsylvania.
Zach Witman was once a juvenile, but after 15 years imprisoned he is approaching his 30th birthday. Zach may one day be released now that the Supreme Court has ruled these sentences unconstitutional, although, like other states, Pennsylvania”s Supreme Court has yet to really deal with the guidelines for resentencing. Exactly what are they waiting for is a mystery.
The story of Zach and his brother Gregory is as tragic as they come. Gregory Witman, a 13 year-old child was brutally murdered as he returned home from school on October 2, 1998. Gregory was attacked from behind at the front door of his home in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. He did not even have time to remove his backpack, suffering approximately 100 stab wounds. See www.zachwitman.com.
His 15 year-old brother, Zach, home sick and in his parent’s upstairs bedroom at the time of the attack, was arrested a few days later and charged with the first degree murder of his younger brother. He was tried almost five years later, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He has served almost 15 years in prison and has always maintained his innocence.
Police at the time conducted a very limited investigation and contaminated the crime scene, preventing the collection of credible forensic evidence. There was no motive as the two boys were very close, and loved and protected one another according to friends, family members and neighbors. There was no blood trail inside or outside of the home that was linked to Zachary, and no blood found on towels or in the drains. Police found bloody gloves and a knife buried outside of the house in a mound of dirt, approximately 10 hours after they arrived at the crime scene. Greg’s blood was found on both the penknife and gloves, but there was none of Zach’s blood, DNA or fingerprints on either when tested by the state of Pennsylvania. In fact, every item of evidence collected excluded Zachary as a source of DNA. Zachary was never in any trouble at home or at school. He was tested for drugs, alcohol and mental illness by authorities; all of which proved negative. Nevertheless, police concluded immediately that Zach was the perpetrator.
Attorneys for the defense shockingly introduced no forensic experts at trial to dispute the state’s “experts” who introduced highly questionable forensic evidence. According to a comprehensive forensic science review of the case, “…findings indicate that no conclusive scientific evidence exists which signify Zachary committed this crime.”
Enter private investigator and former NYPD homicide detective Jay Salpeter who has helped solve a number of high profile wrongful convictions including that of Martin Tankleff in New York. Salpeter also helped in the West Memphis 3 case in Arkansas, gaining very powerful evidence after establishing a confidential tip line in that case.
He is now beginning to reinvestigate the murder of Gregory Witman, along with a former detective and Pennsylvania private investigator. “In every wrongful conviction there is information that someone in the community possesses that can prove crucial. People do not realize that what they observed, heard or noticed may be very helpful in the investigation. We have a double tragedy, the murder of a youngster and a lifetime in prison for his older brother. We owe it to the Witman family to reinvestigate this case, bring Zach home and offer them some measure of peace and justice,” said Salpeter.
An anonymous donor is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the real killer(s). Salpeter asks anyone who might have information that can shed light on the murder of Greg Witman or the investigation, to please contact him via the confidential tip line –717-819-6006.
According to legal filings, police failed to cover their shoes or hands while walking through the house and allowed non-police personnel into the house. “At least twenty-five people trooped in and out of the house on the evening of the murder, without wearing protective clothing to preserve the integrity of the crime scene.” The crux of the States case was the result of luminol testing which they said led to where the knife and gloves were buried. According to testimony by Dr. Henry Lee, famed forensic scientist, “an expert in Luminol would discredit any testimony about the ‘sock print’ trail…” The police failed to effectively canvass the neighborhood, contacting only 12 of 92 homes in the blocks surrounding the crime scene.
Zach”s mom, Sue Witman said, “I have lost both my children. One was brutally taken from us by a murderer, and my other child was taken by a tragic failure of our criminal justice system. The police settled on Zach immediately and, as a result, conducted no credible investigation into who killed my little boy, Greg. My son Zach has continually maintained his innocence. He could have pleaded guilty and served virtually no time in prison, but he did not kill his little brother, he loved his brother. As a result, he was sentenced to life without parole and our suffering has never ended. Our hope is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will see what has happened in this case and grant Zach a new trial, and that the public will help us find new evidence about the murder of Greg.”