The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 15, 2013

Prisoner found guilty of killing Northern Cambria native

EBENSBURG — A jury of nine men and three women deliberated for about two hours, including time to eat lunch, Monday before returning with a guilty verdict of first-degree murder for William Amos Cramer.

The 22-year-old, a native of the Uniontown area of Fayette County, showed no emotion as the jury foreman read the verdict, which carries a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.

Cramer also was convicted of aggravated assault and assault by a prisoner.

He will be sentenced Nov. 4 by Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry.

Cramer and victim William Sherry were cellmates at the Cambria Township lockup for about 12 hours when a call came that a body needed to be removed from cell 67.

Testimony in the three-day trial was that Sherry, 28, a native of Northern Cambria, was found hanging from the metal cell bunk with much of his body lying on the cement floor.

Dr. Curtis Goldblatt of Johnstown, who performed the autopsy on Sherry, said that while Sherry died of strangulation, he had been beaten before strips of a bedsheet were tied around his neck.

“It was difficult to overcome the physical evidence, especially the testimony of Dr. Goldblatt about the injuries prior to strangulation,” Cambria County public defender Ryan Gleason said following the verdict.

The question before the jury was whether Cramer intended to kill Sherry, the element needed for first-degree murder, or if he was reacting in the heat of the moment and “snapped,” as he told some, constituting third-degree murder, which Gleason was seeking.

“I think the entire situation was a tragic one, but we’re satisfied with the verdict,” Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said. “We’re happy this will provide closure for the family.”

It came down to intent, and the jury believed Cramer formed the specific intent to kill Sherry, she said.

Cramer was transferred to the county prison in mid-July 2012. He was facing charges in county court of assault on two corrections officers while housed at SCI-Cresson.

On Aug. 4, Sherry, who was jailed a few days earlier for a parole violation and failure to pay costs and fines, was moved to Cramer’s cell.

It was never clear what the two inmates discussed in the hours leading up to the murder, but later Cramer questioned corrections officers about why they moved a child molester into his cell.

An admitted racist and member of the Pearl Kings, a white supremacy group, Cramer later said he killed Sherry because he fathered a bi-racial child.

Information admitted as evidence during the trial showed that Sherry had never been charged or convicted of harming a child and while he was the father of two children, neither is biracial.

The defense offered no witnesses, but in closing, Sottile said something had to happen or something was said in that cell that led to fast action by Cramer.

“You know that whatever happened, it happened very quickly,” he said in reference to testimony that there were no problems in the cell at 9:15 p.m. and Sherry was dead at 9:30.

“It makes you think that there was a fight, an altercation,” he said. “Did Mr. Sherry attempt to jack up Mr. Cramer? We don’t know.”

“Jack up” is a prison term used to describe one inmate attacking another, according to earlier trial testimony.

Callihan, in closing, told the jury 15 minutes is a long time, when reason should have taken over.

She used a chalkboard and a clock to illustrate the time that was needed to beat Sherry, then strangle him.

A large outer circle depicted the assault on Sherry; an inner circle showed the 10 seconds to lose consciousness after the air passage was restricted.

Standing in front of the jury, Callihan counted to 10. The third circle represented manual strangulation, which according to trial testimony, would take about three minutes until death.

She stood in front of the jury with hands outstretched as if pulling the ends on a bedsheet, while Cambria County First Assistant District Attorney Heath Long monitored a clock.

After waiting 1 1/2 minutes with no sound in the courtroom, Callihan indicated that would have been half the time needed for Sherry to die.

“You have the intent to kill,” she said. “He died a very violent death, a very painful death.”

As the verdict was read, loud weeping came from a woman in the courtroom sitting behind Cramer.

The Cramer and Sherry families had no comment as they left the courtroom.

Not a part of the trial were numerous charges Cramer is facing for assault in state correctional facilities in Cresson, Rockview and Somerset.

Callihan said that while a decision has not been made, it appears doubtful taxpayers will be asked to pay for Cramer’s prosecution on the charges.

“We’re evaluating whether or not we’ll go forward on that,” she said. “We’ll look at whether or not it’s cost-effective.”

Cramer was returned to SCI-Benner in Centre County, where he was housed during the trial.

 

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

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