Baumhammers murder convictions stand, state Supreme Court rules

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The state Supreme Court Tuesday denied an appeal from Richard Baumhammers, who was sentenced to death for killing five people in a racially fueled rampage 14 years ago.

In the unanimous, 60-page opinion written by Justice Thomas G. Saylor, the court rejected all of the 19 separate claims raised by Baumhammers in his petition for post-conviction relief filed by attorney Caroline Roberto in 2011.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, who also served as the trial judge during Baumhammers' death penalty trial in April 2001, held a three-day hearing on four of the issues raised by Ms. Roberto in September 2011.

He ruled immediately from the bench, denying the petition.

Ms. Roberto appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Baumhammers was found guilty of five counts of first-degree murder stemming from a two-hour rampage on April 28, 2000, that stretched from Mt. Lebanon to Beaver County.

Killed were Baumhammers' next-door neighbor, Anita Gordon, 63; Thao "Tony" Pham, 27, of Castle Shannon; Ji-Ye "Jerry" Sun, 34, of Churchill; Anil Thakur, 31, of India; and Garry Lee, 22, of Aliquippa.

Sandip Patel, 32, of Ross, who was paralyzed during the shooting, died seven years later.

Following the penalty phase at trial, a jury found that the aggravating factors presented by the commonwealth outweighed any mitigating factors for Baumhammers, and he was sentenced to death.

Baumhammers, 49, is being housed at the State Correctional Institution Greene.

At trial, psychiatrist James Merikangas was called by the defense and testified that Baumhammers is a paranoid schizophrenic. While he understood the nature of his actions, he did not know that they were legally or morally wrong, the doctor said.

He further testified that the defendant was having hallucinations and that he believed he had been ordered by the government to kill the victims.

However, during rebuttal, the prosecution called Michael Welner, who testified that the hallucinations were a sign of Baumhammers malingering, and that while he had the criteria of various types of personality disorder, he was not schizophrenic.

In his petition with the Supreme Court, Baumhammers presented testimony that several years after the trial, Dr. Welner spoke to various media outlets in response to the shootings at Virginia Tech and referred to his work with Baumhammers and said he was schizophrenic.

Ms. Roberto told the Supreme Court that Dr. Welner's testimony was so unreliable that it made the jury's verdict infirm. She also argued that the doctor's post-trial statements to the media were "newly discovered evidence" entitling her client to a new trial.

In its opinion, the court agreed with Judge Manning's assessment that Dr. Welner remembered the diagnosis incorrectly and made a mistake.

"That decision is supported by the record, and as such, we are bound by it. Accordingly, Dr. Welner's now-disavowed out-of-court statements cannot form the basis of a meritorious constitutional claim."

The next step in Baumhammers' appeal will be to file a petition in federal court.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published May 27, 2014 5:50 PM


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