The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 29, 2013

Death penalty rejected

Prisoner accused of strangling cellmate

Sandra K Reabuck
sreabuck@tribdem.com

EBENSBURG — Cambria County prosecutors have ruled out seeking the death penalty for a state inmate who is accused of strangling his cellmate to death Aug. 4 in the county prison.

William Amos Cramer, 21, is charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault and assault by a prisoner in the strangulation death of 28-year-old William Sherry.

Patricia Moore, one of the public defenders representing Cramer, entered a “not guilty” plea on his behalf at Cramer’s formal arraignment Tuesday before Judge Patrick Kiniry.

After the court hearing, Heath Long, chief deputy district attorney, said, “As heinous as this crime was, when we reviewed the aggravating circumstances (which can support a death sentence), we didn’t find his actions fall into any of the categories. We’re following the law for the death penalty.”

State police alleged that Cramer used a torn strip of a bedsheet to strangle Sherry and then staged the cell in an attempt to make is appear that Sherry had committed suicide by hanging himself with a bedsheet tied around a rung on a bunk ladder.

However, authorities quickly ruled out suicide because the victim’s hands were tied together behind his back and his ankles also were bound together, all with strips of the bedsheet.

The incident took place on the same day that Sherry had been moved into the cell with Cramer, a state inmate who was temporarily housed in the county prison because of other charges here against him.

Evidence at Cramer’s preliminary hearing showed that the defendant had called Sherry, who was white, a “half-breed” and alleged that he had fathered a black child.

In a note to a third inmate, Cramer allegedly wrote, “I didn’t intend to do it. He just pushed the wrong buttons.”

Kiniry, at the request of Moore, agreed to have Cramer kept in the county prison until Feb. 9 so that he could be examined by Scott Scotilla, a State College psychologist. Cramer was moved back into the state prison system after the Aug. 4 incident, and most recently had been incarcerated at State Correctional Institution–Greene in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Although Kiniry set an April 4 trial date for Cramer, Moore said the defense would not be ready to go to trial by that time.

She hinted that an insanity defense might be raised on Cramer’s behalf.

“We’re having this evaluation done, and we’ll get some ideas from Dr. Scotilla and explore our client’s state of mind at the time of this incident,” Moore said.

In addition, Moore said that the defense wants to obtain records about any prior mental treatment Cramer may have received as well as his prior criminal records.

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