Summary of Offense:
Convicted for kidnapping and stabbing to death Ella M. Brown in October 1989.
Crispell was sentenced to death in Clearfield County on August 23, 1990.
Summary of Offense:
Convicted for kidnapping and stabbing to death Ella M. Brown in October 1989.
Crispell was sentenced to death in Clearfield County on August 23, 1990.
Slain Woman's Family Releases Statement On Warrant For Execution
The family of Ella Brown released a statement after Gov. Tom Corbett signed a warrant for the man of killing her to be executed. The letter reads as follows:
"As you may or may not know, this is the first time that our family has opted to address this in a public manner.
"It's time to say thank you to Govenor Corbett for doing the right thing and signing the execution warrant for Daniel Crispell. You're giving us hope for closure, healing, and justice.
"We all wish to elimate the constant hearings that tear open old wounds each time causing you to re-live the same old hurts. It's time to say thank you to all of the people who have been there to help and support our family through such tragic circumstances.
"We have truly seen the best of humanity when we were forced to deal with the worst.
"We do not view the death penalty as vengence, but as justice. We are not looking to inflict suffering, just to find peace knowing this has ended.
"Regardless of how this unfolds, no one and nothing can make up for weddings without your mother, the birth of a child without his or her grandmother, and the day to day life without your wife.
"We wanted to take this opportunity to say to all of those who knew my mom, remember her and all the wonderful things about her. That way, she is never truly lost to us.
"We wanted to make sure to give special thanks to the Witness Victim Program. Thank you to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, and the Clearfield County District Attorney's office."
Execution stayed by Clearfield County Common Pleas Court on September 23, 2011.
I´m so sorry for Ella Brown's family. PA doesn´t know how to treat victims' families.
Hearing for condemned killer begins in Clearfield
By Julie Rae Rickard
An appeal hearing for a death row inmate began Monday in Clearfield County Court.
Daniel L. Crispell, 43, was convicted of murder, kidnapping, robbery and related charges in June 1990 and given the death penalty. The charges stem from an October 1989 incident in which Crispell and Christopher Weatherill abducted Ella M. Brown, 48, at the DuBois Mall.
Her body was found a day later in Sandy Township about 4 miles north of DuBois. She had been stabbed to death. Crispell and Weatherill fled the area and were taken into custody in Arizona.
Crispell who was scheduled to be executed Oct. 19, 2011 was granted a stay of execution in September 2011. The stay is in effect until the conclusion of the proceedings on his appeal, according to court documents.
The hearing is scheduled to run all week with Senior Judge John B. Leete of Potter County presiding. Testimony this week is to come from witnesses and attorneys. The hearing will continue for a second week with testimony from mental health and other experts at a later time.
In December 2008, a petition to recuse the judges of Clearfield County from handling the case was granted and Leete was later assigned to it. Clearfield County President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman was the district attorney who prosecuted Crispell and Weatherill. Judge Paul Cherry was an assistant with the public defender’s office at that time.
Weatherill, who is serving a life sentence in the state prison system, was convicted of second-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in August 1990.
Among the issues listed in the Post-Conviction Relief Act petition are ineffectiveness of counsel for several things related to the penalty phase of the trial, including the lack of a psychological evaluation.
Monday’s testimony featured F. Cortez “Chip” Bell III, the current Clearfield County court administrator, who was the chief public defender in 1990 and represented Crispell.
Bell explained that with a homicide case, the policy in the public defender’s office was to assign two attorneys. Bell assigned himself as well as Cherry to Crispell’s case.
Victor Abreu, assistant defender of the Federal Community Defenders, questioned Bell on his arguments to the jury during the penalty phase of the trial. Bell asked them to consider Crispell’s age, life experience, his remorse and Crispell’s testimony that what happened was not what he planned, but that things “got out of hand.”
Abreu presented several documents to Bell asking if he had reviewed them prior to the trial. Bell was unable to confirm many things due to the length of time that has passed since the trial. An additional problem is that many of the original public defender files are missing and were unavailable for Bell to review to refresh his memory.
Bell was asked if he had seen a medical report from an examination of Crispell done in 1986 after he was raped by two men when he was 15 years old. Bell said he was aware of the incident because Crispell told him about it but was unsure as to whether he had the report.
He was also unsure regarding military medical records that revealed Crispell had been treated for dizziness and passing out. Bell said he did know that Crispell had fainted or passed out but he was not evaluated by a neurologist for brain damage.
Crispell’s juvenile probation records from Columbia County had been provided to the defense, but Bell did not speak to the person who provided them. When asked why, he said it wasn’t necessary because he had the records. Bell did note that he talked to Crispell’s neighbors, former employers, police officers and others about him.
A letter entered as evidence that was written by Crispell to a girl named Trish states that he couldn’t sleep at night, hadn’t eaten in days and was losing his mind in jail. He was plagued by nightmares with “spooky eyes.” The letter was signed “Danny C. and Sharkey”.
Bell said he did speak with Crispell about him having trouble sleeping and not eating but he couldn’t recall if it was because of the letter.
Another letter to “whoever gets this” was also signed “Danny C. and Sharkey.”
Bell said he didn’t ask Crispell who Sharkey was.
In the second letter, Crispell says that he loved his parents and was sorry. He goes on to say he wanted to end his life because of his tormenting dreams with the eyes.
“At least if I’m dead I’ll be free of those eyes,” it says. He said he wouldn’t be alone because “Sharkey” would go with him to wherever he was going. He said this “Sharkey” was his protector in both life and death.
A letter from Crispell to Bell was entered into evidence. In it, Crispell described his anger as “not normal anger” and admitted he could not control it.
When asked if Bell requested a psychiatric evaluation of Crispell after receiving the letter, he said no but he did go to speak to him.
Crispell, in the letter, said he was afraid he was going to hurt someone or himself, which is what he does if no one else is around.
Abreu showed Bell information of an overdose Crispell had in 1987 when he was 16 and asked him if that was proof Crispell hurt himself. Bell said he was not sure the overdose was accidental or if Crispell intended to overdose. He also was not sure if he had access to that information in 1990.
A witness at the trial, Donald Skinner who had been Crispell’s cellmate, told officials that Crispell had confessed to him that he was the one who had killed Brown.
Skinner described Crispell by saying “the kid is crazy” and he was afraid of what Crispell would do next.
Abreu continually provided information intended to indicate Crispell was unstable and then asked Bell if he had ordered a psychological evaluation of Crispell.
It was established that there was no evaluation of Crispell done in Clearfield County.
There is psychological information from Crispell’s time in Arizona provided by Clay Hernandez, a public defender there. Hernandez sent an evaluation to Bell. It concluded that Crispell was competent to stand trial.
Again Abreu asked Bell if he ordered another evaluation after seeing that one. Bell explained the defense was that Crispell didn’t do it and any psychological evidence would not be consistent with that approach.
Abreu asked if there was a need to use this information in the penalty phase of the trial. Bell responded that again, it was not consistent with the defense. Crispell testified in the penalty phase, saying he didn’t do it, Bell said. Crispell maintained that he didn’t intend to hurt her and things just progressed.
Bell explained it was a mutual decision with those involved not to have another psychiatric evaluation.
Abreau noted there was no indication of that in the files.
The current files “do not have an indication of most of the things that happened,” Bell replied.
Testimony Heard in Appeal Hearing for Death Row Inmate
Testimony in an appeal hearing for a death row inmate was heard in Clearfield County Court last week.
Daniel L. Crispell, 43, was convicted of murder, kidnapping, robbery and related charges in June of 1990 and given the death penalty. The charges stem from an October of 1989 incident in which Crispell and Christopher Weatherill abducted Ella M. Brown, 48, at the DuBois Mall. Her body was found a day later in Sandy Township about four miles north of DuBois. She had been stabbed to death. Crispell and Weatherill fled the area and were taken into custody in Arizona.
Crispell, who was scheduled to be executed on Oct. 19, 2011, was granted a stay of execution in September of 2011. This is in effect until the conclusion of the proceedings on his appeal, according to court documents. Weatherill, who is serving a life sentence in the state prison system, was convicted of second-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in August of 1990.
On March 31, the first day of the hearing, testimony came from F. Cortez “Chip” Bell III, the current Clearfield County Court Administrator, who was the Chief Public Defender in 1990 and represented Crispell. During questioning by Victor Abreu, assistant defender of the Federal Community Defenders, Bell explained that Crispell maintained that he was innocent of the murder, and this was why he did not pursue an insanity defense. Abrue continued to provide documents, asking whether Bell was aware of them although the items were not directly related to the case but instead to Crispell’s health and mental state.
While on the stand the second day, Bell commented that he had only a few months to prepare Crispell’s defense while the appeal team has had years and financial resources not available to him. He stated that they were “grasping at straws in an attempt to get him out of the death penalty.”
A complication of the hearing is that most of the original public defender files from the case are missing. A few years ago the information was given to another attorney who was working on an appeal, according to Bell. At the time of the trial, Bell said there were separate files for the penalty phase, a psychological file, a juvenile file, disciplinary files, school records, a drug/alcohol file and certifications. When the file was eventually returned in December of 2011, it was only a few inches thick, including 32 pages of notes and was largely transcripts from court proceedings.
Testimony on the third day came from Clearfield County President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman, who was the district attorney who prosecuted Crispell. Ammerman was originally subpoenaed by the defenders to testify but was actually called to testify Wednesday by the commonwealth. His testimony helped fill in some of the gaps caused by the missing files.
Ammerman said he had attended a seminar in Harrisburg on how to handle death penalty cases in 1988 or 1989. One of the things he learned was how important it was to give information to the defense. He decided that was good advice and his office always provided all information as a rule.
“That’s how I know anything in my file was given to them,” he testified.
William Stoycos, senior deputy attorney general, who is representing the commonwealth questioned Ammerman about Michael Rebo, a fellow inmate who claimed to have heard Weatherill confess to the murder. Rebo also met Crispell at the jail and told him what he had heard. Crispell said he would tell his attorney about this, but that was the last heard of it. A police report on the incident is dated June 30, 1990. The verdict in Crispell’s trial was reached on June 22, 1990.
Ammerman said he didn’t consider Rebo credible and he didn’t use him as a witness in Weatherill’s trial. He couldn’t remember specifically why he didn’t think him credible but stated, “I can’t put someone on the stand I don’t believe.”
Sentencing orders for Rebo were entered into evidence. He was sentenced in two cases for a total of 15 counts of forgery in 1990.
Ammerman reiterated that if he had this information, he would have given it to Crispell’s defense team and discussed it with them.
One of the issues claimed in the PCRA is that Crispell’s attorney was ineffective for the way he handled another inmate witness, Donald Skinner, who testified in the trial that Crispell told him that he had killed the victim.
Ammerman was asked to respond to allegations that Skinner had been placed in Crispell’s jail cell in an attempt to get information from him.
Ammerman denied this and said he never heard of Skinner until he made statements at the Jefferson County Jail. He also confirmed that Skinner received no benefit or special treatment in exchange for his testimony.
“We had no deal with him. He was just to come in and tell the truth,” Ammerman stated. He then confirmed that if Skinner was going to testify in the trial that he would have gotten Skinner’s complete criminal history and shared it with the defense team.
“I was very thorough because this was an important case.”
On the second day, Jennie Murray testified about her friendship with Crispell and an encounter she had with him and Weatherill prior to the murder. She saw Weatherill with the knife and claimed it belonged to him.
Ammerman was asked if she had contacted him. He said she had contacted him after the trial concluded because she had information she felt was relevant to the case. He didn’t think she was credible enough to use as a witness in Weatherill’s trial.
During Murray’s testimony, she recalled her friendship with Crispell and how he changed after his relationship with his first real girlfriend ended. His demeanor was different and the “preppy” teen was wearing jeans and not showering, she said.
“He looked like a dirt bag,” she said.
At the end of September of 1989, she ran into him at the Bloomsburg Fair. Weatherill was with him. They both smelled of alcohol.
About a month later, they came to her home and Crispell “was in a panic,” saying he needed money and a car to get out of town. He said he wanted to go west, possibly to California. While there, she saw Weatherill put a knife in his boot.
After she heard of the murder, she contacted police to inform them of the incident, but no one ever got back to her about it.
“I’ve been waiting 25 years to tell someone what I knew,” Murray said.
She also recalled Crispell’s relationship with his father who hit him “if he didn’t abide by his rules.”
David Crispell Sr. also testified on the second day. He became emotional as he reviewed his son’s life prior to the crime. He admitted he disciplined him by “spanking his bottom with my hand.” When he was older, he would use a belt or stick to strike him.
He explained that he disciplined Daniel more than his other children, because “he aggravated me more than the other children did.”
He went over Daniel’s medical problems, which included fevers as a child, a car accident from which he received a head injury and a rape by two men while he was in Florida.
David Crispell said he did talk to the defense attorneys but said they did not ask him about these things or his family history.
The hearing concluded after a fourth day of testimony on Thursday. The hearing will continue for a second week with testimony from mental health and other experts in June. Senior Judge John B. Leete of Potter County is presiding over this case.
A uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.
Crispell's PRCA hearing resumes
By Jeff Corcino
The Post Conviction Relief Act Hearing for Daniel Crispell, of SCI Greene, resumed yesterday at the Clearfield County Courthouse.
In 1990 Crispell, 43, was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death and is petitioning the court for relief under PCRA.
On Oct. 26, 1990, Crispell, then 18 and living in Berwick, and Christopher Weatherhill, then 17, kidnapped Ella Brown of St. Marys at knifepoint in the parking lot of the DuBois Mall. The two then drove her car to a deserted area, took her cash and jewelry and stabbed her to death before fleeing in her vehicle. Her body was found the next day.
The two men were later apprehended in Arizona and returned to Pennsylvania.
The hearing started in April and was continued yesterday. It is scheduled to last until Friday
Crispell's attorneys, Victor Abreu and Billy Nolas, federal assistant public defenders, are arguing that Crispell received ineffective representation at his 1990 trial and sentencing hearing.
At the 1990 trial, Crispell was represented by attorney F. Cortez "Chip" Bell III, who was the lead counsel and Judge Paul Cherry. Bell and Cherry were both employed by the public defenders office at the time.
One aspect of the appeal is Crispell's attorneys are arguing that Bell should have raised Crispell's psychological issues, his family life and his age as mitigating factors during the sentencing phase in an effort to keep him from receiving the death penalty.
One defense witness who testified yesterday was Dr. Neil Blumberg, a forensic psychiatrist from Baltimore, Md. During direct testimony under questioning by Nolas, Blumberg testified he examined Crispell on three separate occasions - twice in March 1999 for approximately three hours each time and November 2009 for approximately four hours.
As a result of his examinations and testing, Blumberg said he has diagnosed Crispell as having borderline personality disorder with anti-social features and post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he believes these are the result of years of physical and emotional abuse from his father and being raped as a 15-year-old.
He said Crispell told him his father was a minister who was very strict and began beating him severely starting in the fourth grade. His family was also very poor and moved repeatedly, increasing the instability in his home life.
Blumberg said Crispell told him that when he was 15, he ran away from home to escape the abuse from his father and one night, when he was sleeping on a beach on Florida, two men attacked him and held a knife to his throat while they each raped him.
Blumberg said the rape continues to be the most traumatic event of Crispell's childhood and he wept when he spoke about it 20 years later.
Because of his borderline personality disorder, Crispell suffers from depression, has low self-esteem and has a tendency to act impulsively, believes the world is dangerous and out to get him, and is often anxious and defensive.
His PTSD causes him to have nightmares and flashbacks, use avoidance techniques to avoid thinking about traumatic events and is often suicidal.
Nolas presented Blumberg with three letters Crispell had written while incarcerated at the Clearfield County Jail where he wrote about having nightmares and suicidal thoughts and asked if these warranted his trial attorney requesting a psychiatric evaluation, and each time Blumberg answered yes.
Nolas also asked if Crispell's trial attorney should have asked for a psychiatric evaluation after his suicide attempt while in jail when he slit his wrists with a razor blade prior to his preliminary hearing in 1990, and Blumberg said yes he should have been evaluated.
Blumberg said Crispell was remorseful for what happened and said he did not intend for Brown to be killed. He denied the actual stabbing but admitted to participating in the crime. Blumberg said Crispell had suppressed those memories while he was in jail. But prior to his preliminary hearing, the memories of the murder overwhelmed him and he attempted to take his own life.
During cross-examination by William R. Stoycos, senior deputy attorney general, Blumberg was asked if the impulsiveness caused by Crispell's borderline personality disorder caused him to murder Brown. Blumberg said Crispell's impulsiveness caused him to steal a car in Berwick and take it for a joy ride and his subsequent decision to "get out of Dodge" to avoid arrest was a result of his impulsiveness but not the murder itself.
Stoycos asked if Crispell's impulsiveness caused him and Weatherhill to concoct a plan to abduct someone and steal their car, money and jewelry. Blumberg said no.
Stoycos asked if impulsiveness caused Crispell to select Brown because she was a woman and lie in wait for her to leave the mall, pretend to have a dead car battery and ask for a jump, abduct her at knifepoint, drive her to an isolated area, stab her to death, hide her body, steal her car and jewelry and pawn her engagement ring in Arizona for money and, for each question, Blumberg said no because each of these things required foresight and planning and were not impulsive actions.
Stoycos also asked if Crispell's symptoms of PTSD he exhibited in the CCJ prior to trial could have been caused by the murder itself since it was the memories of the murder that caused him to attempt suicide.
Blumberg said he believes the primary cause of Crispell's PTSD was the years of abuse by his father and the rape and said memories of the murder was "the straw that broke the camel's back."
Stoycos also asked if any of the state prison records since his conviction show any evidence of PTSD symptoms. Blumberg said no.
The hearing is expected to conclude tomorrow.
Judge John Leete of Potter County is presiding over the hearing.
Testimony wraps in Crispell's PCRA hearing
The testimony phase of the Daniel Crispell Post Conviction Relief Act hearing concluded early Friday evening with the testimony of another psychiatrist.
Crispell, 43, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1990 in Clearfield County and was sentenced to death.
He petitioned the court for relief under PCRA.
On Oct. 26, 1989, Crispell, then 18, and Christopher Weatherhill, then 17, kidnapped Ella Brown of St. Marys at knifepoint in the parking lot of the DuBois Mall. They then drove her car to a deserted area, took her cash and jewelry and stabbed her to death before fleeing in her car. Her body was found the next day.
Weatherhill was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
The PCRA hearing had been split into two portions. The first portion, which lasted five days early last April, included testimony from Crispell's attorneys both in Clearfield and Arizona, his family and friends, and President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman, who prosecuted the case on behalf of the commonwealth as the district attorney of Clearfield County.
The second half, held three days last week, saw the testimony of three mental health professionals, one on each day, and each of them gave differing opinions on Crispell's mental health.
The last to testify was Dr. Stephen Mechanick, a psychiatrist from Philadelphia, who testified on behalf of the commonwealth. He was on the stand for approximately nine hours Friday.
Mechanick said he disagreed with Dr. Neil Blumberg, who testified on behalf of the petitioner on Wednesday that Crispell had borderline personality disorder with anti-social features, bi-polar disorder not otherwise specified and post traumatic stress syndrome.
Mechanick said there is little evidence from the prison records that Crispell had the symptoms of these disorders and said it is unlikely that he would suffer from these disorders without attracting the attention of prison officials.
Mechanick said Blumberg's diagnosis comes mainly from Crispell's self-reporting of symptoms and said Crispell is intelligent and has a history of not telling the truth and these accounts cannot be trusted.
However, he said he agreed that Crispell did suffer from anti-social disorder and had been severely abused by his father as a child, and this had a negative impact on his mental health.
He said Crispell's anti-social disorder could have been raised as a mitigating factor during his penalty phase of his trial in 1990 but said this had some risks as well because of the negative perception the public has for people with anti-social disorder and said prosecutors often use this diagnosis for their own advantage.
Mechanick also said he has some doubts that Crispell had been raped by two men at knifepoint when he was 15-years old after he ran away from home because of Crispell's history of not telling the truth. Mechanick said the rape could have happened, but he said it also could be true that Crispell made up the story to get out of trouble from his abusive father for running away from home.
Dr. Steven Samuel, a neuro-psychologist from Philadelphia, who testified on Thursday on behalf of the commonwealth, and Blumberg, both testified that they believed Crispell had been raped when he was 15-years old.
Samuel also testified that he agreed with Blumberg's diagnosis that Crispell had PTSD but he said the testing Blumberg did on Crispell that showed him to have borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder might not be valid and Crispell could have been exaggerating his symptoms to further his legal case or as a cry for help for his mental problems.
During cross-examination by Crispell's attorney Billy Nolas, federal assistant public defender, Mechanick agreed that Crispell had been consistent in his accounts to mental health professionals over the years that Weatherhill had committed the actual stabbing and murder of Brown and that Crispell had not intended for her to be killed.
Judge John Leete of Potter County, who presided over the hearing, gave the commonwealth and the petitioner's attorneys 60 days after the hearing transcript is completed to file their briefs in the case.
After the briefs have been filed, Leete gave the commonwealth and the petitioner's attorneys 30 days to respond.
Once the responses have been filed, Leete said he would schedule oral arguments with the time and place to be determined later.
Once the arguments have been filed and completed, Leete has three options on which to rule: grant no relief to the petitioner, grant relief in the form of a new jury trial or grant relief in the form of re-sentencing. With this last option, a new jury would be sat to decide only on whether or not Crispell should receive the death penalty or life in prison and not on his guilt or innocence.
A ruling isn't expected until early next year, according William R. Stoycos, senior deputy attorney general, and lead attorney for the commonwealth during the proceedings.
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