Defense attorneys for the man charged in the strangulation death of his cellmate at the Cambria County Prison is not disputing their client killed William Sherry.
But William Cramer’s defense team does dispute the circumstances of Sherry’s death.
In opening arguments Thursday in the courtroom of Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry, Public Defender Ryan Gleason told the jury there was no premeditation in the Aug. 4, 2012, homicide at the prison.
“What happened on Aug. 4 was done in the heat of the moment. It was not done with the intent to kill,” Gleason told the jury. “It was done quickly, but it was not planned.”
Cramer maintains that Sherry at one point attempted to attack him with a sharpened toothbrush and that he was defending himself.
Heath Long, chief deputy district attorney, in his opening statement told the jury the case is not a “whodunnit,” but a case of a man brutally beaten by someone whose intent was to kill.
“There were no defense wounds, no evidence of a fight, no evidence he (Cramer) was defending himself,” Long said.
The difference is the first degree murder conviction District Attorney Kelly Callihan is seeking and the third degree conviction the defense is seeking.
Sherry, 28, a native of Northern Cambria, was living in Johns-town. He had been in the prison for four days after being picked up on a parole violation and for failure to pay costs and fines.
Warden John Prebish testified that Sherry had made threats to another inmate and was transferred to the restricted housing unit, where he shared a cell with Cramer.
Cramer, 22, a native of a small town south of Uniontown, had been in the county prison since July 11 awaiting a court appearance, Prebish said.
Corrections Officer Daniel Link testified that Sherry was strip-searched when he was moved into the cell around 9 a.m. on Aug. 4. No contraband was found and there appeared to be no problem between the two.
Now-retired Corrections Officer Alan Bertram testified he was relieving another officer for break when sometime after
9:15 p.m. he got a call of trouble in the cell.
“Inmate Cramer was standing in front of the door window and he started yelling at me, “why did you put this molester in my cell.”
There had been no charges filed or any indication that Sherry molested anyone, according to testimony.
Bertram finally got Cramer away from the door and out of the cell when he saw Sherry hanging from the set of bunk beds with his head, neck and upper chest off the floor. The rest of body was on the cement cell floor.
He had strips of a bedsheet around his neck. His feet were bound, as were his arms around his back, according to testimony.
Corrections Officer John Frank, called to assist and take Cramer to the nearby shower where he could be secured, said Cramer kept telling him that Sherry “had a (N-word) baby.”
“He told me not to check on him (Sherry). He was dead,” Frank testified.
Another corrections officer, Lt. Christopher Alexander, testified that he heard Cramer say: “Yeah, he’s dead. I killed him.”
Bertram and Frank, using the instruments to open handcuffs, cut Sherry away from the bunk bed and attempted CPR until ambulance personnel arrived.
“I used my handcuff key to try to get his neck loose. I started chest compressions,” Frank said. “I noticed blood coming from his mouth.”
State police Trooper Richard Doran testified he found a pair of crew socks tied together in knot inside the cell.
There was blood on the socks, blood in Sherry’s mouth and white marks on his mouth, indicating the socks had been stuffed in his mouth, Doran said.
A search warrant allowing authorities to inspect Cramer’s body showed no bruises.
“There were no marks on Mr. Cramer’s hands, his arms or his face,” Doran said.
He also said no toothbrushes were found in the cell.
Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.