HOLLIDAYSBURG - U.S. Army veteran Nicholas A. Horner will spend the rest of his life behind bars after a Blair County jury on Wednesday night became hung up on the question of life or death.
The jury spent more than seven hours hearing dramatic and tearful testimony from the families of Scott Garlick, 19, and Raymond Williams, 64, who were murdered by Horner on April 6, 2009, when the 31-year-old Johnstown native robbed the 58th Street Subway and attempted to flee.
Horner also shot Subway employee Michele Petty during the robbery.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Nicholas A. Horner’s mother, Karen Horner of Johnstown, reacts as she leaves the Blair County Courthouse with her family after Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva sentenced her son to life behind bars.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Nicholas A. Horner’s father, Daniel E. Horner (right), leaves the Blair County Courthouse with family members after learning that Horner will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Blair County Deputy District Attorneys Wade Kagarise (front left) and Jackie Bernard (front right) and Altoona Detective Scott Koehle (back left) and state Trooper Craig Grassmyer (back right) leave the Blair County Courthouse.
Despite arguments from defense attorneys Thomas M. Dickey and David DeFazio that Horner was in a dream-like state suffering from overmedication due to post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems, the jury Tuesday night found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder among many other offenses.
That led to Wednesday's hearing to decide if he should receive the death penalty.
DeFazio asked the jury to spare Horner's life, to grant him mercy. He called the crimes "horrific" but said mercy is something that is "unmerited," meaning it is granted one person to another despite the circumstances.
"You are the ones who are going to have to live with this," he said.
Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard was emphatic that the death penalty was appropriate.
Horner had murdered two people and shot another for $133, a set of keys and a few pieces of mail, Bernard said.
"He robbed the world of Scott Garlick and Raymond Williams. ... The defendant chose to kill Mr. Williams after he already killed Scott Garlick. He was the judge, the jury, the executioner. He alone chose the circumstances of his own untimely death. When he sentenced them to death, he sentenced himself to the same fate," Bernard said.
She turned and pointed at Horner saying, "Nicholas Adam Horner, you deserve to die."
Horner had no reaction as he focused his attention in another direction.
The jurors began deliberations at 7:30 p.m., but just 75 minutes later sent a note to President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva stating they were "hopelessly deadlocked" on the question of death or life.
The jury, according to a defense source, was split "50-50."
When a jury becomes hung on the question or death or life in prison, the judge is required by law to set the penalty at life, Kopriva explained. She will order a presentence investigation and will impose a sentence on Horner within the next two months.
"I am grateful to the members of the jury for sparing Nicholas Horner's life. I believe he will be a model prisoner. His children can visit with him. I think executing him would have compounded this horrible tragedy," DeFazio said.
Dickey said he thinks Horner's Army experience and that fact he saw so many horrible things while at war was a major factor in the jurors' indecision.
"The jury had a tough job to do. We think they did the job they had to do and we were pleased with their service," Bernard said.
Petty, who still feels the effects of the shooting, said she was satisfied with the verdicts.
When asked if she felt the trial would help her to heal, she said it would.
Horner's mother, Karen, whose eyes were worn from a day of shedding tears, said, "We are very grateful." Horner's father, Daniel, said he wanted to thank the jurors.
Testimony began Wednesday with victim impact statements, something Bernard said the jury could consider as it mulled over the death penalty.
For an hour, representatives of the Garlick and Williams families talked to the jury.
Scott Garlick was a determined young man, said his mother, Amy.
"If there were obstacles in Scott's way, he did not make excuses for them. He found a way to overcome them," she said.
He was always fighting an uphill battle.
He was partially deaf, but that didn't stop him from pursuing his love of music and writing songs, Amy Garlick said. He even produced his own CD.
When it came to his love of soccer, he didn't make the varsity team but was captain on the junior varsity.
"He never needed to be first but only wanted to be part of the team," she said.
"He'll never get to be the best man at his brother's wedding. I will never get a mother-son dance at his wedding or see my grandchildren. Not only was our son taken from us, we were robbed of his future."
His brother, James Christopher (Chris) Garlick, told the jury the murder has affected his whole family.
"I see the tears, the anger and struggle in my parents, my grandparents, aunts and uncles and also my friends," he said.
"I only wish that all the tears of sadness could be turned into tears of joy and all the sad faces turned into smiles and all the anger vented out into laughter. By my wishing all this, it could only mean that I'd be wishing for my brother's life back. God bless you and thank you."
Williams' daughter, Melanie Kollar, said her dad was one of the nicest guys you would ever meet.
"He was literally the man who would give you the shirt off his back," she said. "He rarely lost his temper and always stood by what was right. My dad was a generous soul who will always be in my memories."
Kollar said that what happened haunts her on a regular basis. Her mother, Tina, was "crying hysterically on the phone, me screaming. ... My husband trying to understand and comfort everyone. ... It was surreal," Kollar said.
Psychologist Mark Tabackman of Towson, Md., mother Karen Horner and Horner's wife, Windy, created another picture of Nicholas Horner.
Horner was raised in a loving but dysfunctional home that included drinking and spats between his parents, Tabackman said.
Horner had his first drink at age 6, tried marijuana by age 14 and became addicted to medication for his anxiety and PTSD while in the Army, Tabackman said.
As a child, Horner suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was a binge drinker and on the day of the killing, he was under the influence, Tabackman said.
All of these conditions affected his judgment, he concluded.
Windy Horner described the "good times" with her husband, noting also, "He was a good dad."
The war changed him, she said.
Karen Horner agreed that his personality was altered as a result of his second and third tours in Iraq.
"I couldn't believe it," she said of the murders.
"Nick wouldn't hurt anybody. ... He's a good man," Karen Horner said.
Everyone has a father but not everyone is blessed enough to have a dad, Williams' son, Matthew said.
"Raymond Williams was my Dad. It was Dad who threw the baseball to me, even when his arm hurt. It was Dad who was standing and cheering when I scored the winning touchdown in the football game. Dad taught me to change the brakes on my car and was a model of patience when I messed up.
"Not everyone has a dad, and those blessed enough to have one should not have them taken away as mine was. Nicholas Horner killed this blessing. He used five shots from a gun to be sure of it."