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'I killed my brother:' Zachary Witman admits to gruesome 1998 murder; parole now possible

Written by Rick Lee/The York Daily Record | Feb 9, 2018 4:22 AM
Zachary-Witman-11-19-17.jpg

Zachary Witman in a 2017 prison mug shot. (Photo: Submitted)


(York) -- For the first time since 13-year-old Gregory Witman was found nearly decapitated inside his New Freedom home, his brother, Zachary, is admitting guilt. 

"Yes, I can say I killed my brother by stabbing him," he told a judge. 

Zachary on Thursday entered into a plea deal that would have him eligible for parole this time next year. In York County Common Pleas Court, he pleaded guilty to 3rd degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 15 years, 230 days to 40 years. This would make him eligible to be released on Jan. 3, 2019.  

Gregory was killed after returning from school on Oct. 2, 1998.

Blood evidence showed that he was attacked inside the front door. His body was found in the laundry room toward the rear of the house.

He had been gruesomely knifed more than 100 times and left nearly decapitated.

Within days, police arrested 15-year-old Zachary for the murder and charged him as an adult.

Ahead of Thursday's court appearance, Witman met with prosecutors and described what happened. In court, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim Barker recapped that description. 

He said Zachary got mad at Greg because Greg was mad at him for hanging up on his girlfriend. Greg wouldn't drop the matter. Zachary grabbed a pair of soccer goalie gloves and a small pen-knife and went downstairs, but Greg followed and kept yelling at him. 

Zachary said he intended only to scare his brother with the knife, but stabbed him when they were in the foyer. Greg ran to the back of the house. Zachary followed, and continued stabbing him in the laundry room. 

He said he got scared and hid the knife and gloves under a tree in the back yard, then he called 911.

Barker said the prosecution does "not view Mr. Witman as a risk" to the public. 

Judge Michael Bortner told Witman, "Your case has dominated the attention of this community like I've never seen." 

After accepting the plea, Bortner said, "I wish you well. I hope you and your family can find some peace." 

Zachary's father, Ron, attended the hearing. His mother, Sue, did not. 

Ron Witman said he could not comment on what transpired inside the courtroom. He did say, however, that the one thing he wants is for the York community to leave him and his family alone. 

He said he did not believe his youngest son's murder and his older son's arrest and guilty plea to that murder was the business of anyone outside the family. 

Pretrial motions concerning the admissibility of crime scene evidence delayed the trial until 2003.

Because of heavy media coverage of the case during those four-plus years, Zachary was granted a change of venire -- a jury brought to York from outside of the county.

That jury convicted Zachary of first-degree murder. The only available penalty at that time was life in prison without parole.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole for juvenile killers was cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional.

Zachary's case was basically shelved for years while his attorneys and the prosecution waited on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and then waited more for the Pennsylvania legislature to determine if that ruling should be applied retroactively.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court took the next step and clarified that the 2012 ruling should be applied retroactively to all juvenile lifer cases.

Zachary, who is  being held  in Smithfield State Correctional Institute, was in York County in November although he did not have a public hearing.

According to his most recent court filing, his attorney did meet with the York County District Attorney's Office, presumably to discuss the available options.

Witman is among the last of the people who committed murder in York County as a juvenile and received the  life without parole sentence. Others in his situation have been resentenced to lesser terms since the Supreme Court's 2016 ruling.

Witman currently is in York County Prison.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record. 

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