The Untold Truth Of The Witman Murder Case

On a fall day in 1998, the community of New Freedom, Pennsylvania, was shocked to hear the tragic news that a young local boy had been found slashed to death inside his own home. Even more shocking, the perpetrator would turn out to be the victim’s own brother.

Then-15-year-old Zach Witman was accused of repeatedly slashing and stabbing his 13-year-old-brother, Greg, with a penknife to the point of near decapitation. According to the York Dispatch, Zach had stayed home sick from school the day of October 2, 1998. While he was home alone, Greg’s girlfriend reportedly called the house, but Zach hung the telephone up on her. When Greg arrived home and asked about the call, he became angry with Zach for hanging up on the girl, and the interaction became heated. Zach was so infuriated by the argument that he grabbed his penknife and a pair of gloves and, in a fit of frustration, stabbed and slashed his brother more than 100 times, until he was dead.

Zach Witman called 911 claiming an intruder killed his brother

Zach then buried the knife and gloves under a tree in the backyard before calling the police. On the 911 call, Zach was audibly distraught, screaming, and told the dispatchers: “I came downstairs, and the door was cracked and he was lying there. Just lying there! Gone! Gone! Gone! Gone! Why? Why? Why?” via People.

According to the police report, Zach was still in distress when the police arrived at the crime scene, appearing “in an excited state,” with blood on his hands, “screeching in a high pitched voice,” and repeatedly saying that he needed to call his mother. They quickly discovered Greg’s body, covered in blood, lying on the floor of the family’s laundry room. When authorities asked Zach to explain what happened, he told them “that he was home sleeping. He left a key in the door for his brother to get home. He heard a thud downstairs like something was getting thrown against the wall, came downstairs, found his brother, and called 911,” the report recounted (via FindLaw).

Witman was convicted of first-degree murder in 2003

However, it didn’t take long for authorities to begin to question that version of events. Luminol showed traces of blood leading throughout the house, including through the family room and near the family’s outdoor Jacuzzi. The trail of blood then led police to the backyard, where they discovered the spot where the knife and gloves had been buried. Less than a week after the Greg’s death, Zach Witman was arrested for the murder of his youger brother. After conducting a full sweep of the house, the police finding no evidence that there had been an intruder, and no other person of interest had been investigated in connection with Greg Witman’s murder.

The case took five years to go to trial. In 2003, Zach was convicted by the Pennsylvania courts of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. However, Zach refused to admit guilt, and maintained that he had not killed his brother, up until 2018.

Ron and Sue Witman maintained their son's innocence

His family has also maintained his innocence through the years. His parents, Ron and Sue Witman, continued to stand by their surviving son, saying there was no way he could have committed the crime. “They were very different but incredibly close. Greg was very social and Zach has always been quiet and an introvert. But they protected each other,” Ron Witman said of the relationship between his two boys, according to Fox News.

Sue Witman claimed the police were set on pinning the murder on her son Zach from the beginning, and were “not interested in any outside evidence.” She also mentioned the police had not considered other possibilities that pointed to the murder being committed by an intruder, including reports by an anonymous witness who told authorities a suspicious person living near the Witman home also carried a pocketknife and had once commented that “somebody ought to kill those rich kids and hide the evidence.” The Witmans also believe they had been treated unfairly by the press, with the media immediately painting Zach as the guilty suspect. The parents spoke out about the difficulties they faced grieving the loss of one child while struggling to cope with the trial and loss of their other son to life imprisonment.

Witman's conviction was thrown out in 2018

“I just want people to know there are two sides to everything. We are decent people. Our children are decent people. And we were just a normal family in everyday middle America who was crucified by the press. This can happen to anybody. And how do you ever prepare for something like this? It was devastating,” Sue Witman told Fox News, “Zach is afraid that because we’re voicing how we feel, it could affect him. I’m unhappy if he’s unhappy. But I want other parents to know that this can happen to them.” 

In Pennsylvania at that time, minors who were under the age of 18 could be tried and convicted as adults in a case of murder, according to Fox News. However, in 2016, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to sentence minors to life in prison without parole. It had also come to light that Zach’s former defense attorney had neglected to tell the Witman family about a possible plea offer he could have taken before the murder case first went to trial, according to People. As a result, Zach’s conviction and sentencing were thrown out, and he became eligible for resentencing in 2018.

Witman was released from prison in 2019

Zach then pled guilty to third-degree murder, reversing his former insistence of innocence and admitting on record: “Yes, I can say I killed my brother by stabbing,” according to the York Daily Record. He received a new sentence of no less than 15 years and 230 days to no more than 40 years behind bars. By this time, Zach had already spent close to 20 years in prison, most of which was recorded as time served, making him eligible for parole as early as January of 2019.

The state board granted Zach’s parole, and he was released from prison on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. He was 36 years old. Upon his release, he planned to return to his parent’s home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and work on becoming “a productive member of society,” his lawyer told reporters, via The Cinemaholic. His parents were happy to finally have their son back home, and looking forward to him moving on with his life, with his mother, Sue, stating in an interview: “I couldn’t be happier. I’m the happiest that I’ve been in 21 years” (via the York Daily Record).

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