Cambria jury finds Cramer guilty

EBENSBURG – It took a jury less than two hours to find William Amos Cramer, 22, guilty of murder in the first degree for the vicious beating and strangulation death of his cellmate, Carrolltown man William Sherry, 28, on Aug. 4, 2012.

Dressed in a navy suit with a partially buttoned white dress shirt, Cramer sat stoically beside his counsel, Chief Public Defender Ryan Gleason and Assistant Public Defender Kenneth Sottile, as the jury foreman read the verdict.

Cramer’s mother and grandmother openly wept and sobbed into tissues a few rows behind him.

He also was found guilty of aggravated assault and assault by a prisoner charges. The first-degree murder charge carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Closing arguments were made almost immediately upon court reconvening Monday morning, with the prosecution and defense resting and the defense not calling any witnesses to testify.

Speaking first, Sottile, as Gleason had said at the start of the trial last Thursday, told the jury that some of the case’s facts are not in dispute.

“I’m not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting that William Sherry didn’t die at the hands of William Cramer,” said Sottile. “Mr. Sherry died a terrible death at the hands of Mr. Cramer.”

However, Sottile said, Cramer may not be guilty of the highest degree of murder but only third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter based on what prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

He also asked jurors to not let their application of the law be tainted by Cramer’s blatant racism, noted by the prosecution in a letter Cramer wrote to another prisoner, telling him that, after beating Sherry, a white man, “I hung me a n- – -” and killed him.

Cramer also alleged that Sherry was a “half breed” and fathered a biracial child, despite the prosecution’s evidence to the contrary. The prosecution noted that Sherry had two children, both of whom are white.

Sottile also said while Cramer confessed, both to guards and in a letter, much of what he said was an exaggeration typical of prisoners, including Cramer’s claim that Sherry tried to attack him with a toothbrush.

As to one of Cramer’s other claims, that Sherry was a child molester – with corrections officer Alan Bertram having testified that Cramer, after killing Sherry, told guards to “get this child molester out of my cell” – Sottile questioned whether the idea that Sherry was a child molester had been planted by someone.

“Why would Mr. Cramer make that statement” if no one had suggested to him that Sherry had committed such crimes, he asked.

The prosecution previously noted that Sherry had never been accused, charged or convicted of sexually assaulting a child, and all corrections officers testified that it would be wrong, even punishable by disciplinary action, to discuss other prisoners’ sentences.

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan delivered closing arguments for the prosecution, touching on previous evidence and telling jurors that medical evidence proves that Cramer intended to kill Sherry from the moment the assault on him began and not in the heat of passion during a fight.

Dr. Curtis Goldblatt, the pathologist who performed Sherry’s autopsy at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown and who examined physical evidence taken from a search of Cramer’s body, showed otherwise, she said.

“They did not see any marks. They did not see any bruises. They did not see any scratches. They did not see any blood. So if this was a fight, it sure was a one-sided fight,” Callihan said.

Science proved that Sherry’s beating came first, she said, adding that Cramer also had to have taken the time to prepare the ligatures not only to bind him, but to strangle him.

He had to have, after incapacitating Sherry, removed the lower bunk bed’s sheet and torn it into the pieces used to bind Sherry’s ankles and feet, before sticking a sock gag in his mouth.

“How much of a threat is the victim at this point?” she asked, adding that Cramer still made the preparations to strangle Sherry, looking at him, face-to-face, and using enough pressure to fracture Sherry’s hyoid bone.

“And he [Cramer] watches as he pulls” the ligatures, Callihan said, holding her fists in front of her to mimic the act of strangling, as Heath Long, first assistant district attorney, used a stopwatch on his cellphone to count out 10 seconds, the time it would have taken Sherry to pass out, up to a full 90 seconds.

Cramer sat emotionless as Callihan surveyed the jurors, holding her fists in front of her, telling them it could have taken twice as long as they demonstrated – up to 3 minutes, by Goldblatt’s testimony – for Sherry to die.

“And that’s an uncomfortable amount of silence,” she said.

Then Cramer began his coverup, first trying to make the killing look like a suicide, then changing gears and admitting to the killing, but claiming that he didn’t intend to kill.

“[Sherry] died a very violent death. He died a very painful death,” she said.

Gleason said the defense knew going in that Cramer’s trial would be difficult, especially with the evidence Goldblatt provided.

“We still felt we had a credible argument for third-degree homicide,” he said, noting that in talks with Cramer, nothing indicated that there was another motive for the killing.

“In his words: He [Sherry] pushed the wrong buttons … there was some kind of fight,” he said.

Gleason also said he would explore all appeal options for his client.

Callihan said the state is satisfied with the first-degree murder conviction.

“The entire situation is a tragedy, all around,” she said, but hoped the trial gave closure to Sherry’s family.

Cramer’s sentencing is set for 9 a.m. Nov. 4.