DA points to unsolved ‘major-crime investigations’ as reason for upcoming grand jury

Harrisburg Patriot-News
By Wesley Robinson
March 07, 2017

The fifth investigative grand jury in Lancaster County’s history will convene this month to hear testimony in unsolved homicides and major cases.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman announced the grand jury Tuesday morning in a news release, pointing to the “major-crime investigations,” which have come to a relative impasse. He said the cases could benefit from the testimony of previously uncooperative witnesses who will now be subpoenaed because of the grand jury.

“Ideally, we are hoping this session brings charges and closure to victims seeking justice,” Stedman said in a statement. “At the least, we expect advancement in cases. A previously-unknown detail or two can provide police what they need to move a case forward.”

Officials do not anticipate a report at the end of the grand jury process, but rather expect findings to be incorporated into charging documents, should probable cause be found during the session. Stedman said there are enough cases to make the grand jury worthwhile, adding that no specific case led to the upcoming session. The office would like to have a grand jury in permanent session, but there typically not enough cases to justify such a measure, officials said.

The grand jury is expected to convene for 18 months, with an option for prosecutors to request an additional six months for the panel to hear cases.  It will have subpoena power, but cannot indict, Stedman said. He added that grand jury laws restrict officials from speaking about specific cases and that grand jury proceedings are closed to the public.

A Lancaster County judge selected 30 residents to serve on the panel in the monthly sessions. Typically, 23 jurors sit in each hearing and 15 are required for a quorum.

Stedman noted that grand juries were empaneled in 1995, 2001, 2005 and 2011. He pointed to several past cases that were aided by grand-jury testimony, leading to convictions:

  • Holly Steffy and Jose Colon: Charged after the most recent grand jury with neglecting and abusing a 3-month-old girl in 2008. Steffy and Colon are serving state prison terms.
  • Micah Stewart: From the 2005 panel, Stewart was convicted in 2006 of first-degree murder for killing Cortney Fry, a 19-year-old mother, in Columbia in 2004.