Date for murder trial is unclear
Judge handling case has retired
BEDFORD — A date for the capital murder trial of a man charged with gunning down his estranged wife in a Bedford County McDonald’s parking lot remains uncertain after the judge handling the case retired effective last week.
Retiring Judge Daniel Howsare has already been appointed by the state Court Administrator’s office as a senior judge, but as of Tuesday a trial date had not been set for the case of John Gerholt.
A Mount Union native, Gerholt, 39, has been in the Bedford County Jail since the Nov. 9, 2008, shooting death of his wife, Karen Gerholt, 24, of Hopewell.
If Gerholt is convicted of first-degree murder, Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins said he will seek the death penalty.
Court-appointed defense attorney Thomas Dickey of Altoona said he is ready for trial with the uncertainty being Howsare’s appointment to the case. Dickey anticipates the trial starting in late August.
Higgins said because the jury will have to be death-qualified, a trial before fall will be difficult.
“I need three or four weeks to get my witnesses ready, but we need time to get jury questionnaires out,” Higgins said. “I can try it in August, but the earliest it could happen is September.”
Howsare, on the bench since the mid-1980s, retired effective July 4, but indicated a willingness to serve in a senior capacity, especially in the Gerholt case.
Art Heinz, a spokesman for the state Court Administrator’s office, said Howsare’s appointment as a senior judge is broad.
“It’s just a general assignment, not a particular case,” Heinz said.
Gerholt, 39, is accused of shooting his wife to death as she took a break in the parking lot of the Snake Spring Township McDonald’s where she was employed.
The two were estranged and Karen Gerholt days earlier had sought and was given a protection from abuse order by Bedford County Judge Thomas Ling.
Ling has since recused himself from the case because of his involvement in the restraining order.
Bedford is a two-judge county, and since Howsare’s retirement, Ling has taken over as president judge and will assume responsibility for assigning Howsare, officials said.
Howsare, 61, retired about halfway into his third 10-year term on the bench. Historically, the vacancy would be filled temporarily through a recommendation from state Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, with an appointment by the governor.
Candidates would seek their party nomination and election in 2011 so the vacant seat on the bench would be filled in January 2012.
But Gov. Ed Rendell is accepting a recommendation made by the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Ronald Castille, that judicial vacancies go unfilled through the end of 2011 and the election.
Heinz said the recommendation is in light of the state’s financial difficulties.
An exception would be made where special needs can be documented.
Estimates are that as much as $3.3 million could be saved by not filling the 28 judicial vacancies statewide, including Howsare’s, Higgins said.
“Basically we’re going to have a vacancy for a year and a half,” he said.http://tribune-democrat.com/local/x383296273/Date-for-murder-trial-is-unclear