New Trial Ordered in '92 Murder-for-Hire Case

An evenly divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling ordering a new trial for a man who has been on death row in a murder committed more than two decades ago.
The 3-3 deadlock by the state's highest court last week leaves in place a Schuylkill County judge's ruling that Ronald Champney of Pottsville received ineffective legal representation during his trial in the 1992 murder of Roy Bensinger.
Prosecutors argued that Champney, who is now 62, was paid $25,000 to kill Bensinger at the victim's North Manheim Township home. The victim's wife, Beth Ellen Shirey, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in the case.
District Attorney Karen Byrnes-Noon told The (Pottsville) Republican-Herald that she is reviewing the opinions and declined comment on whether Champney would be retried by her office or the state attorney general's office, where a spokesman said the case is under review.
Justices supporting the lower court's ruling said Champney's trial attorney should have sought to bar prosecutors from using statements her client made to police. They said police had to stop questioning him when he asked to speak to his previous attorney.
But other justices said the defendant's statement was ambiguous enough that police weren't required to stop questioning him. They also disagreed with the lower court ruling that prosecutors should have been required to disclose the parole records of the chief witness against Champney. They would have sent the case back to the lower court judge to determine remaining errors he found were enough to warrant a new trial.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us