Appeals panel announced in Shephard case
The composition of a three-judge panel that will decide whether William F. Smithson gets a new trial in the Jason Shephard murder case was announced last week.
State Superior Court Judges John T. Bender, Christine L. Donohue and Eugene B. Strassburger 3d will sit on the panel.
In 2008, Smithson was convicted of strangling to death Shephard, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. But Smithson maintains that C. Bruce Covington — who was also inside Smithson’s home when Shephard was killed — wasn’t properly investigated.
Covington was convicted of drug offenses relating to the incident but Delaware County prosecutors insist Smithson killed Shephard.
Advocates for Smithson, who is gay, say there’s no direct evidence linking him to the strangulation and that homophobia played a significant role in Smithson’s prosecution.
Smithson, 49, remains incarcerated in Huntingdon. A decision on his bid for a new trial is expected early next year.
FIGHT supports Morris probe
Philadelphia FIGHT, a comprehensive AIDS-services agency, has endorsed a state probe of the Nizah Morris case.
FIGHT executive director Jane Shull confirmed the agency’s support this week.
Morris served as a volunteer at FIGHT, prior to getting inside a Philadelphia police vehicle for a Center City “courtesy ride.” Shortly after the ride, Morris was found by passing motorists with a fatal head injury.
Her 2002 homicide remains unsolved, and advocates want a state probe. But state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane hasn’t yet agreed to review the case.
In a related development, on Nov. 18 former state Rep. Babette Josephs urged the executive board of AFSCME District Council 47 to support a state probe of the Morris case.
D.C. 47 represents about 3,500 white-collar municipal workers in Philadelphia.
Josephs said Morris’ advocates expressed concern that local authorities are engaged in a cover-up. She said advocates have been blocked from accessing key documents that should be in the public domain.
“We’re getting the royal runaround,” she told 30 union leaders in attendance.
D.C. 47 president Fred Wright said the union will take Josephs’ remarks under advisement and report back to her.
— Timothy Cwiek