By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
FRENCH CREEK TOWNSHIP —
The attorneys in the Ralph L. Young murder case met for the last time with a judge Wednesday to go over evidentiary issues.
The trial begins Monday with jury selection.
Young, 46, of Franklin, is charged with first- and third-degree murder, arson and abuse of a corpse for allegedly shooting David A. Dignall, 58, of French Creek Township, pouring a flammable liquid on him and setting the body and Dignall’s van on fire Dec. 20, 2012, on Hollobaugh Road in the township.
Prosecutors allege the killing was the result of a dispute over the fate of Young’s mother’s 35-acre property near Franklin. Dignall and his wife, Alice, Young’s sister, bought the property and were charging Young rent to live there. Young, who wanted to start some kind of ministry on the property, had been living there rent-free.
Assistant Mercer County District Attorney Daniel Davis said he expects to call about 20 witnesses, with testimony lasting at least through next Friday.
Defense attorney Alexander H. Lindsay Jr. has six or seven witnesses he could call.
Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John heard arguments Wednesday over motions by Lindsay to exclude evidence. One of the key issues he brought up is one that he has tried to use – unsuccessfully – to get the charges dropped.
Lindsay objected to the DNA report.
Young’s DNA was found on a milk jug containing diesel fuel that was found in front of the burning van, next to Dignall’s body, officials said. The jug also contained Dignall’s DNA and the DNA of an unknown person.
Lindsay previously argued at Young’s preliminary hearing that the DNA evidence – the only piece of evidence made public that appears to put Young at the scene – was insufficient to get the case held for court. District Judge D. Neil McEwen, Pine Township, disagreed.
Lindsay also filed a writ of habeas corpus after the preliminary hearing making the same argument, and St. John denied it.
Lindsay said Wednesday that his DNA expert told him that DNA does not deteriorate, and he argued that Young could have touched the jug at some other time.
He also said that Dignall’s DNA was stronger on the jug than Young’s, and that DNA from Dignall and unknown sources was found on other items at the scene.
Taken together, the DNA report is misleading and could confuse jurors, Lindsay said.
St. John, who accepted a number of photographs and documents relating to all of the motions, gave no indication how he might rule.
“I will make a ruling on all the items you raised in your motions after I have read the information,” St. John said.
The judge indicated he likely would exclude two photographs, finding them too gruesome, while giving prosecutors an opportunity to alter two others.
Lindsay objected to two autopsy photos, one of which showed the shotgun pellets and the severing of Dignall’s spinal cord, and the other showing the shotgun wadding in his body.
The defense attorney said the photos are unnecessary because he is not challenging that Dignall was murdered or any of the autopsy findings.
“It helps the jury to understand exactly what happened,” Davis countered.
“In my experience, pathologists are really good with creating a picture with their words,” St. John said. “I realize it’s not as good as a picture.”
Two other photos were taken at the scene and show the position of the body in relation to the van and objects found at the scene, including two milk jugs containing diesel fuel, their caps, the torch prosecutors allege was used to start the fires and a wad of cash.
St. John said he understands the need to show where the items were found, but still found the body photo to be gruesome. He suggested that Davis print the photos in black and white or obscure the body and resubmit them.
The judge also heard arguments about Lindsay’s objections to potential testimony about whether Young was offered a chance to take a polygraph test; whether police found Young’s verbal or body responses to questions “odd”; Young’s reported burning of his own van two days after Dignall’s death; and two letters Young wrote to his estranged wife months prior to the slaying.