EBENSBURG - Chief Public Defender Ryan Gleason said during opening arguments Thursday in an inmate-slaying trial that many of the facts introduced over the next three days would not be disputed by the defense - including the fact that the defendant, 22-year-old William Amos Cramer, killed his cellmate on Aug. 4, 2012.
Cramer killed William Sherry, 28, of Carrolltown in the "heat of the moment," Gleason said, and it "was done quickly and it was not done with intent to kill."
After outlining the legal definitions of first-, second- and third-degree murder, Gleason told the jury that "not every killing is the same," and by the end of testimony, they will find Cramer not guilty of murder in the first degree.
A McClellandtown, Fayette County, resident, Cramer is charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault and assault by a prisoner in the slaying of Sherry, who police said died from manual strangulation.
Prison records show that Cramer and Sherry were placed together in cell 67, on the second floor of the Cambria County Prison's east wing of the Disciplinary Housing Unit, for only 12 hours before Sherry was killed.
Prison Warden John Prebish Jr. said inmates are transferred to the DHU for misconduct or rules violations. There, inmates are confined to their cells 23 hours per day except for one hour of recreation; they are fed in their rooms by corrections officers and shower every other day.
They also must be handcuffed any time they leave their cell, he added.
Cramer had been a state prisoner - housed at the State Correctional Institution at Cresson serving a sentence of four years and six months to nine years for robbery and assault. He was transferred to Cambria County Prison to await a hearing on additional criminal charges resulting from an incident at SCI Cresson in November 2011.
Sherry was imprisoned three days before his death on Aug. 1, 2012, on a bench warrant after failing to notify the court of a change of address and failing to appear at a July hearing.
Prebish said Sherry was then moved to the DHU for making threats against another inmate.
Corrections officer Daniel Link testified that he was the one that placed the two inmates together, with the help of another officer, around 9 a.m. the day of the killing. He said neither gave any indication that they knew each other or that there was going to be trouble.
"It was pretty much a routine move," he said.
But when corrections officer Alan Bertram responded to Cramer's screams around 9:15 p.m., telling an officer to "get this child molester out of my cell," he and two other officers found Sherry tied by the neck to a ladder on the cell's bunk bed, his hands bound behind his back and his ankles tied together.
Bertram said Cramer had used torn bed sheets to tie up Sherry and had stuffed a gag in his mouth, made of two knotted crew socks.
Corrections officer John Frank testified that as he was moving Cramer across the hall to be locked in a shower, Cramer said, "There's no sense checking on him, he's dead."
Corrections officer Christopher Alexander recalled Cramer yelling from the shower, "Yeah, he's dead. I killed him."
The prosecution noted that Sherry was never accused or convicted of sexually assaulting a child and that no officer had told Cramer about the nature of Sherry's crimes. He pleaded guilty in May 2012 to fleeing or attempting to elude an officer and driving on a suspended license.
First Assistant District Attorney Heath Long said Cramer later gave an explanation for the killing, telling police that Sherry tried to attack him with a sharpened toothbrush while he was on the toilet.
Trooper Richard Duran, a forensics expert with state police at Greensburg, who documented the scene and recovered evidence, said he didn't remember seeing any toothbrushes in the cell.
Long said the real reason Cramer killed Sherry was because Sherry, a white man, was "a half breed with a [black] baby and was dating a full-blooded [black woman]," according to a letter Cramer wrote to another inmate after the killing.
"This was not an accidental death," Long said. "This was not a suicide," as Cramer also claimed at one point; "This was a murder."
Wearing a loose navy suit and white shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, Cramer sat motionless during most of Thursday's proceedings, with his chin resting on his right fist.
A woman who identified herself as Cramer's mother, but declined to give her name, dabbed at tears during testimony of the killing and hid her face in her hands when crime scene photos were shown.
She declined to comment, saying only that in her experience - with both sons in jail - the prison system is messed up.
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said the prosecution likely will rest its case by Friday afternoon. Gleason said the trial will go to the jury by Monday.