YORK, Pa. (AP) — An appeals court has halted the release of a man awaiting a new trial on charges of having killed his wife and then faking an all-terrain vehicle accident to cover up the slaying a decade ago.
The York Daily Record reports that a York County judge last week had cleared the way for the release of 49-year-old Joe Fitzpatrick III of Chanceford Township. He’s accused of having drowned 43-year-old Annemarie Fitzpatrick in a creek in June 2012 and then telling police they crashed their ATV in the water.
The judge cited a state constitutional provision saying bail should be allowed except in first-degree murder or mandatory life term cases, and said details of the trial and Fitzpatrick’s lack of a significant criminal record made bail a viable option. The length of his pretrial detention also opened the question of whether he was entitled to legal release on nominal bail, which would be $1.
But the Pennsylvania Superior Court has temporarily stayed the decision as it reviews the emergency petition.
Fitzpatrick was initially convicted of first- and third-degree murder as well as involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last year ordered a new trial, saying Fitzpatrick III might not have been convicted without the admission into evidence of a note from his wife which the court called inadmissible hearsay that injected “significant prejudice” into the trial.
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Authorities alleged that Fitzpatrick wanted out of his marriage, was emotionally involved with another woman and had a $1.7 million life insurance policy on his wife. Hours before her death, prosecutors said, Annemarie Fitzpatrick wrote, dated and signed a note in her day-planner at work saying “If anything happens to me — Joe.” She also wrote an email to herself titled “if something happens to me” saying the couple had marital problems and a huge log had almost fallen on her the night before.
The trial judge, in a rare move, set aside the jury verdict, saying prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to support a conviction. An appeals court reinstated the conviction, saying the note was allowed as evidence to show the victim’s state of mind, an exception to the hearsay rule. The court said the email wasn’t admissible but ruled that its admission was harmless “in light of the overwhelming evidence against Fitzpatrick.”
The state Supreme Court majority, however, said the note did more than reflect the woman’s fear, it also asserted that her husband would be responsible “if something untoward or violent happened to her” — and offering the note as proof of that would be inadmissible hearsay.