The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

April 13, 2014

Attorneys preparing work for murder trial

FRENCH CREEK TOWNSHIP — Emerging from his chambers after about two hours of meeting with attorneys in Ralph L. Young’s murder case, Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John thanked spectators for their patience in waiting for the public portion of the hearing.

“This is pretty standard at this stage of such a case,” he said of the private discussions.

The purpose of what has been called a pretrial hearing and a status conference is to “narrow the work” attorneys need to do to prepare for Young’s May 12 trial, St. John said.

Young, 45, 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 District Attorney Daniel Davis said he had just turned over reports on DNA evidence and firearm tests to Young’s attorney, Alexander H. Lindsay Jr.

Speaking of the DNA report, St. John said, “The paper portion of that is about 2 inches thick.” The report also includes a compact disc detailing the sample handling and testing procedures.

The parties have differing opinions over the importance of results of DNA tests on a pair of work gloves found in the van. The gloves contained two profiles of people who have not been identified, which Davis said renders them irrelevant.

However, Lindsay has the opposite view. While he did not specifically explain the gloves’ relevance, it appears he could argue that one or more people other than Young were at the crime scene.

Lindsay said he has to give Davis reports from experts that St. John allowed him to hire.

Lindsay acknowledged that a chemist was unable to test samples of diesel fuel in a gallon milk jug found outside the burning van; in a cup holder inside a van; and a 55-gallon drum found in a barn on property in Franklin that Young rented. Lindsay had hoped to determine if the samples came from the same source.

The attorneys provided St. John with tentative witness and exhibit lists and questions for prospective jurors.

The prosecution witness list is 80 to 100 names long, but St. John said he hoped that could be pared down through stipulations concerning subjects such as autopsy findings.

Davis said he believed actual testimony could be limited to 15 to 20 people, and that the trial length will not exceed the two-week trial term.

“We’re moving toward agreement on many points,” Lindsay said.

The judge said additional summonses have been issued so that more prospective jurors will be called than during a trial term that doesn’t include a murder trial.

Lindsay has filed a number of motions to keep evidence out of trial. St. John noted Lindsay objected to some autopsy and crime scene photographs as “too gruesome.”

St. John set a May 7 hearing to handle evidentiary matters.

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