The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 11, 2013

Experts question inmate’s story

EBENSBURG — Two medical experts testifying Friday in the murder trial of William Amos Cramer said there was no evidence that the victim William Sherry hung himself in the prison cell the two shared.

Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski and pathologist Dr. Curtis Goldblatt testified in the second day of trial that Sherry’s body had all the signs of manual strangulation, not hanging.

Cramer, 22, a native of McClellandtown, Fayette County, is on trial for the Aug. 4, 2012, death of Sherry, 28, of Northern Cambria.

The two had been cellmates for about

12 hours when a call came that someone needed to remove Sherry’s body because he was “stinking up the cell.”

Following the incident, Cramer told corrections officers at the Cambria County Prison that Sherry had hung himself, while he told others that he had killed Sherry.

“The cause of death was manual strangulations. It was ruled a homicide,” Kwiatkowski told the jury.

Goldblatt, who conducted the autopsy on Sherry, said the victim had signs that he had been beaten, strangled and hung from the cell bunk frame using strips of bedsheet.

“He died as the result ligature strangulation, lack of oxygen to the brain,” Goldblatt testified.

In questioning by Heath Long, first assistant district attorney, Goldblatt said the multiple injuries found in the area of Sherry’s kidneys, face and temple were sustained before death.

In cross examination by Chief Public Defender Ryan Gleason, Goldblatt said death from strangulation takes approximately three minutes. However, he was not able to determine how long Cramer may have been strangling the victim before death.

The defense concedes that Cramer killed Sherry.

At question is the degree of murder he is facing.

District Attorney Kelly Callihan is attempting to prove premeditation and specific intent to kill, and is seeking a first-degree murder conviction.

Gleason and Deputy Public Defender Kenneth Sottile are attempting to show that Cramer had no premeditation and he snapped and killed Sherry.

They are seeking murder in the third degree.

Cramer, with a shaved head, has shown no emotion and seldom communicates with his defense team. He does not look in the direction of the jury and sits bent forward, resting his hands in his chin.

His father and grandmother have been sitting behind him during the two days of testimony, but there appears to be little communication with him.

Corrections officers and supervisors at the Cambria Township prison and police made up much of the list of witnesses presented by the prosecution Thursday and Friday.

They testified about finding Sherry’s body and statements Cramer allegedly made regarding the victim being a child molester and fathering a bi-racial child.

A statement read into the record by Judge Patrick Kiniry from the prosecution stated that Sherry had never been accused of or convicted of crimes involving children.

The statement also said that Sherry fathered two children and neither are of mixed race.

An inmate at the prison who was in a cell next to Cramer’s testified extensively, outlining a night-long conversation he had with Cramer through an air vent, and two subsequent letters the defendant slipped to him.

“He asked me if I was white,” the inmate told the jury. “He told me how he got into a physical altercation with Mr. Sherry and that he had gotten the upper hand and strangled him.”

The inmate said Cramer told him he made Sherry kiss his boot by kicking him in the forehead and after that he strangled him.

Cramer also told the inmate, according to the testimony, that he is a member of “Pearl Kings,’ a white supremacy group and he wanted the inmate to join.

The defendant wrote the inmate an extensive note in which he spelled out what he did to Sherry, a message that prompted the inmate to contact corrections officers.

A second note came from Cramer hours later saying he knew the inmate was a “rat,” and threatened the inmate’s family.

“I was a little shaken up. I was worried about my family and myself,” the inmate said.

In cross-examination, Sottile suggested the inmate had passed the information about Cramer in the hopes of getting out of jail early.

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” the inmate responded.

But inmate request forms turned over by the prison showed that not long after his mid-August encounter with Cramer, he offered to provide information in exchange for a deal.

The inmate said he did not get a deal and information provided by Callihan was presented with the intention of supporting his assertion.

The prosecution team of Callihan, Long and Cambria County Assistant District Jessica Aurandt resumes Monday morning.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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