EBENSBURG - Prosecutors introduced more evidence Friday against inmate William Amos Cramer, 22, in an effort to show he not only intended to kill his cellmate last August, contrary to the defense's claims, but that he openly told others why he did it.
A state inmate, Cramer was housed in Cambria County Prison last year awaiting a hearing on additional criminal charges when William Sherry, 28, of Carrolltown was moved into cell 67 with him early Aug. 4, 2012. Sherry was killed later that day.
Sherry had been in prison for four days on a bench warrant after failing to notify the court of a change of address and failing to appear at a July hearing regarding delinquent court costs.
Contrary to Chief Public Defender Ryan Gleason's opening arguments, in which he stated that Cramer never intended to kill his cellmate, inmate John Teston - who was housed next to Cramer after the killing - testified Friday that Cramer told him through an air vent on Aug. 16 that he killed Sherry because he was a "half breed."
Teston said Cramer of McClellandtown, Fayette County, told him Sherry was cheating on a presumably white girlfriend with a black woman and that Sherry had fathered a biracial child.
Evidence introduced Friday stated that Sherry had two children, neither of whom are mixed race.
Teston then said Cramer told him he would write him a letter, which Cramer arranged to have passed on the next day, Aug. 17, by another inmate under a meal tray through a slot in the cell door.
In the letter, submitted as evidence by the prosecution, Cramer told Teston he had "gotten the upper hand" in a fight with Sherry and had killed him by strangling him with a ripped bedsheet.
Cramer also wrote that Sherry had tried to attack him with a toothbrush and that he didn't intend to kill Sherry, but that Sherry "pushed all the wrong buttons."
He wrote that after Sherry was unconscious, he beat him again and threw him on a bed, made him kiss his boot by kicking him in the face and "Then I hung me a n--."
Cramer signed the letter "Pearl Kings," indicating a white supremacy group, with two swastikas.
Prison shift supervisor Lt. Donald Ochenrider told the court that Teston turned the letter over to him that same day.
Teston said Cramer told him in a second letter sent Aug. 18 that he heard Teston talking to correctional officers about the first letter.
"You're playing a game that shouldn't be played," Cramer wrote.
Teston later told Assistant Public Defender Kenneth Sottile he didn't coax the information out of Cramer because he wanted a more lenient sentence.
Teston is imprisoned on two felony charges: aggravated assault, for having shot his neighbor in the neck with a BB gun, and aggravated harassment by prisoner, for having spit on a correctional officer's shirt.
The assault charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and the harassment charge seven years; District Attorney Kelly Callihan stated during Teston's direct examination that while she signed off on a lesser sentence of 15 to 30 months, no one made any promises to him when he turned over the letters to officers and made his first statement to police.
Teston told Sottile he hadn't thought about his own case until months later. Sottile produced an inmate request form dated Aug. 27, 2012, just 10 days after he received Cramer's first letter, offering his testimony to attorneys "if we can make a deal." Department of Corrections employee Daniel Kearns also testified that Cramer told him about the murder, saying he tied up Sherry, stabbed him and choked him.
Sottile pointed out that there were no wounds on Sherry's body consistent with a stabbing.
Kearns said Cramer justified the confession.
"He basically said he didn't care about telling [me] because he'd already told the media," Kearns said.
Information introduced by Dr. Curtis Goldblatt, the pathologist who performed Sherry's autopsy at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, showed that Sherry's injuries corroborated what Cramer said in his letter to Teston.
Goldblatt said all of Sherry's injuries were sustained antemortem, including bruising from the binding of Sherry's ankles and wrists, bruising from facial trauma and internal soft-tissue hemorrhage around the kidneys resulting from a beating.
The area around the kidneys contained around 100 milliliters of blood, roughly half of the amount of blood that would be given during a blood donation, he said.
Goldblatt also noted that Sherry's injuries resulted from manual strangulation and not a hanging.
A hanging creates an inverted "v" shape at the nape of the neck from the knot being pulled upward and away from the body, he said, whereas Sherry had horizontal grooved bruising with a 2-centimeter gap near the Adam's apple, which Goldblatt said is consistent with someone having stood in front of Sherry, pulling two ends of a ligature together and across the neck.
Goldblatt also noted that a hanging would have been unlikely because Sherry's hyoid bone was fractured. The hyoid is a u-shaped bone that rests above the Adam's apple and under the chin.
"It would take considerable force from a blunt-force trauma injury" to fracture that bone, he said.
He also testified that Sherry's killer tore ligament connections in the vertebrae, which also would have required "considerable force."
Other injuries included two contusions to the face running in straight lines, one across Sherry's forehead and temple, and the other just below his left ear, consistent with being struck against a hard edge.
"A fist wouldn't produce that sort of mark," he said.
Goldblatt said that it would have taken only 10 seconds of pressure from the strangulation for Sherry to have lost consciousness. It would have taken up to three minutes of additional pressure for him to die of strangulation, he said.
Sherry also did not suffer defensive wounds, Goldblatt said, and did not fight back as he was being killed.
Judge Patrick Kiniry said the trial should go to the jury by Monday afternoon.