Friday, November 21, 2014

A Family Tragedy - "Shock, Confusion, Grief"

Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

     Prosecutors called it "a bloody massacre."
     The March 5, 2011, brutal murders of 70-year-old Joseph C. McAndrew, his wife, 64-year-old Susan C. McAndrew, and their son, 23-year-old James McAndrew, in the family's Holstein Road home in Upper Merion stunned the local community. The arrest of the couple's other son, Joseph Jr., sent additional shockwaves through the community.
Convicted killer Joseph McAndrew Jr./Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
     "He snuffed out the lives of three people who were wonderful people who were having great impacts in their community and that's the tragedy of what occurred," Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said this week when Joseph McAndrew Jr., 27, was sentenced to three consecutive life prison terms after he was found guilty but mentally ill of three counts of first-degree murder.
     "The family is devastated by what happened. The far-reaching impacts of what occurred are unimaginable," Steele added, referring to the grief suffered by the victims' relatives.
     That grief, that loss, was palpatable in the courtroom when Steele, with a sorrowful tone in his voice, read to Judge Gary S. Silow a heart-wrenching letter written by the killer's half-sisters, who are the daughters of the elder, slain McAndrew. You could have heard a pin drop in the courtroom as deep sadness flowed from the pages of the victim impact statement and was soaked in by all who listened. One could not help but be moved by the revealing, candid words.

Montco First Asst. DA Kevin Steele & co-prosecutor Kathleen McLaughlin
Excerpts of the McAndrew family's victim impact statement appeared in daily newspaper accounts about the sentencing hearing. However, because of limited space in daily papers, the entirety of the statement could not be included in the typical news accounts. So I am sharing the poignant statement, as read in open court to Judge Silow, to provide readers with a better understanding of the confusion and anguish suffered by those in the wake of such an unimaginable tragedy.

Honorable Judge Silow:

This statement is being made on behalf of Joseph McAndrew Sr.'s daughters and their husbands.

There are no words that can adequately describe the full impact of the horrific actions that took place during the evening of March 5, 2011. Those actions abruptly altered the path of our lives forever. The past three and half years have been filled with shock, confusion, disbelief, grief, depression, anger and anxiety. Everything we thought we understood in our lives, had to be reexamined. Simple things in life became great challenges, for example:
  • being able to go alone into the basement at night
  • having dinner in a restaurant and not anxiously be watching the door to make sure the defendant isn't entering
  • focusing on the blessings in life, when all you want to do is cry
We had to rebuild our confidence in the things that most people take for granted everyday; all while trying to deal with and accept the loss of our dearest loved ones, Joe Sr., Sue, and Jimmy. We know life is not easy, but no family should have to go on the path we have encountered and will continue to encounter.
  • The defendant didn't have to go through and clean out the home, which was once filled with so many wonderful memories, but now stands as an awful reminder of the tragic actions that took place.
  • The defendant will not have to explain to our children why they won't be able to see their Nana, Pop Pop McAndrew or their Uncle Jimmy.
There is absolutely no justifiable reason for the actions that resulted in the loss of our father, mother and brother. Those actions can only be accounted for by true evil, nothing else.

By the grace of God, our family has begun picking up the pieces. We continue to pray that God will work in our hearts to be able to forgive the defendant for this horrific act. However, we will never forget what happened by the hands of the defendant.

Your Honor, while this victim impact statement conveys some of the impact of the defendant's actions to our lives, this statement isn't really about us. If it were, we would have elected not to make a statement. This statement is really about our obligation to confront evil. This obligation requires us to give you some insight into the far reaching, long lasting effects of that night that are beyond the scope of this trial. In doing so, we encourage you to sentence the defendant to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. It is imperative that the defendant never again has the opportunity to harm another person.

The McAndrew Family

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Swinehart Murder Still a Fascinating Tale


     It's a crime that has stayed alive in the minds of many Pottstown-area residents. The January 1982 murder of 44-year-old Pottstown real estate magnate David Swinehart ranks as one of the infamous stories that grabbed headlines in the region for more than 14 years in the 1980s and 1990s. The tale of greed, sex and conspiracy that ended with Swinehart being smashed over the head with a baseball bat and stabbed 14 times became known in local circles as the "Crime of the Decade."
     Interest in the crime continues to this day.
     Indeed, at 9 p.m. tonight former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr., now a county commissioner, will be featured prominently on Investigation Discovery Channel when the network airs a program that examines the Swinehart murder and the subsequent trials related to the crime, according to county spokesman Frank X. Custer. Castor prosecuted three of the five defendants charged in the case.
David Swinehart...killed January 1982
     Castor’s appearance tonight marks the fifth case involving Castor that Investigation Discovery has profiled in recent years., Custer said.
     I remember the Swinehart case well as it was the focus of much of my time when I took over the county courthouse beat for The Mercury in 1991. I had a front-row seat to all the drama that unfolded.
     Swinehart, trial testimony revealed, was stabbed and beaten to death with a baseball bat as he left his home in the 200 block of Maugers Mill Road in Upper Pottsgrove on Jan. 15, 1982. Swinehart and his wife, Patricia Ann, were estranged at the time and Mr. Swinehart had been visiting his four children who ranged in age at that time from 6 to 17, according to testimony.
     Prosecutors alleged Patricia Swinehart conspired with Thomas and Jeffrey DeBlase, her nephews through marriage, to kill her husband in order to collect more than a half-million dollars in life insurance money and so the socialite could continue her sexual affair with Thomas, then a handsome 24-year-old construction worker and former Pottstown High School quarterback.

Patricia Swinehart/Mercury file photo
    Patty Swinehart denied ever asking either of her nephews to kill her husband and she was acquitted by a jury of murder charges during a high-profile trial that lasted several weeks in January and February 1994. The DeBlase brothers were both convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the death of their uncle.
    When Patty Swinehart and Thomas DeBlase, for the first time in many years, came face-to-face in court during Thomas’ trial in 1996, she forced to testify against her ex-lover and about their affair, there wasn’t an empty seat in the courtroom.
     For a brief time, soap opera took over a court of law.

The Mercury/ Dec. 31,1989
     Following is a brief synopsis of the case, compiled from The Mercury’s vault:
     Jeffrey DeBlase, now 57, was convicted in 1985 of first-degree murder in connection with the slaying of his uncle. Sentenced to life in prison, Jeffrey DeBlase is currently housed at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Huntingdon County, according to court records.
     Jeffrey DeBlase was the first of five defendants to stand trial for the murder.

The Mercury/ Feb. 3, 1996
     DeBlase’s brother, Thomas, Swinehart’s wife, Patricia, and two other Pottstown area men, Terry Lee Maute and Arthur Hall, also were charged with taking part in one of Pottstown’s most notorious crimes.
     Prosecutors called the case a “contract killing,” alleging Patricia Swinehart conspired with her nephews and Maute to kill her husband. The motive, authorities alleged, was to collect $523,000 in life insurance money and to allow Mrs. Swinehart and Thomas DeBlase to continue their sexual affair. The DeBlase brothers were Mrs. Swinehart’s nephews through marriage.
     Thomas DeBlase, now 56, was convicted Feb. 2, 1996, of first-degree murder and is serving a life prison sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township in Northumberland County.
     Patricia Swinehart, who would be72 now, was arrested July 28, 1993, more than 11 years after her husband's killing. At the time, prosecutors said the arrest came after they uncovered new information about the case. She was acquitted of all murder charges in February 1994 during an emotional trial at which she was represented by veteran criminal defense lawyer Frank DeSimone. She denied any involvement in the killing.
     Maute, who would be 66 now, was acquitted of murder charges in 1985. However, he was sentenced to a 20- to 64-year jail term on unrelated forgery and theft charges.
     Hall, who would be 65 now, pleaded guilty to robbery charges in connection with the crime and served a 29- to 59-month county jail term.
I will be interested to see what Castor has to say tonight during the national television program that examines the case.