The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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May 22, 2014

Young found not guilty

Acquittal angers Dignall’s family

FRENCH CREEK TOWNSHIP — Ralph L. Young walked out of the Mercer County Courthouse Wednesday showing no emotion, even though it would be for the last time as a jail inmate.

His sister’s family, however, stormed out cursing, furious that a jury had found Young not guilty of killing David A. Dignall.

“He did it,” one of Dignall’s daughters said, referring to Young, her uncle.

“What are we supposed to do, now?” another angry family member asked Assistant District Attorney Daniel W. Davis.

Someone apparently pounded a wall on the way out, causing a boom-like sound.

While Davis tried to sympathize with the family, he was quick to praise the jury for its attention to the case, even if he disagreed with its conclusion.

“This was an excellent jury,” Davis said of the seven-woman, five man panel. “They obviously considered the evidence very carefully.”

Even during the “boring” parts of the trial, the jurors listened attentively, he said. “They were paying attention to everything.”

Davis said he told the Dignall family, “We did our job and the jury came back with their verdict. They did their jobs.”

“We’re very gratified with the verdict,” said Young’s attorney, Alexander H. Lindsay Jr. “We think the verdict was proper. We thought we had a strong defense. We had a very sophisticated jury. They were able to comprehend our defense.”

The defense was simple: Young, 46, was not at the scene on Dec. 20, 2012, when Dignall, 58 of French Creek Township, was shot in the back and his body and van set on fire on Hollobaugh Road in French Creek Township.

That was what Young told state police the day after the killing.

Davis hoped that Young’s admission that he was in the area at the time of the murder; his access to a shotgun, which has since disappeared; witness descriptions of a man milling around on Hollobaugh Road at about the time of the slaying; and the ongoing dispute Young had with Dignall and his wife over property in Canal Township, Venango County, where Young was living, were enough to send Young to prison for life.

The jury deliberated about 7è hours over two days. The jurors stayed the night at a local motel – the first panel to do so in probably a decade, a court official said – and Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John reminded them Wednesday that there was no direct testimony from an eyewitness who saw Young kill Dignall, start the fires or touch the milk jug containing diesel fuel or kerosene, on whose handle Young’s DNA was found.

“It would be through circumstantial evidence” that they would convict Young, he said.

“You can convict someone solely on circumstantial evidence, if it’s strong enough,” the judge said.

The jury found Young not guilty of first-degree murder, third-degree murder, arson and abuse of a corpse.

Davis said the investigation into Dignall’s murder is essentially closed.

“We’re pretty convinced that it was Ralph that did it,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll do anything more.”

Young had been in jail since his arrest May 13, 2013. First-degree murder is an offense for which a judge is not allowed to set bail.

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