Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Judge: Lawyer can keep homicide case DA suggested possible conflict of interest
BY BRETT HAMBRIGHT, Staff Writer
A 19-year-old Elizabethtown man charged with killing his girlfriend in December after he allegedly intentionally crashed a car can keep his attorney, a judge has ruled.
Jeffrey Conrad will be allowed to represent Benjamin Klinger, Lancaster County Judge Margaret Miller ruled Monday.
The district attorney's office had filed a motion suggesting Conrad's representation of Klinger is a potential conflict of interest because of a meeting Conrad had with the victim, 17-year-old Samantha Heller.
During that October meeting, Heller discussed details about her two-year relationship with Klinger, prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
That would make Conrad a potential trial witness in the Klinger case, creating a conflict of interest, prosecutors suggested in its motion.
A meeting was held Monday in Miller's chambers to discuss whether Conrad should be booted from the case.
The judge's clerk filed an order Wednesday stating that the commonwealth's motion is denied.
Conrad and District Attorney Craig Stedman, who have been asked to limit what they say outside of open court, confirmed the ruling but said nothing more.
"The only thing I can say is the judge ruled in our favor," Conrad said Wednesday afternoon. "So we're back at it."
Stedman said, "We are very pleased that the issue is resolved and that Mr. Conrad is remaining on the case, but I can't elaborate at this time."
Stedman and Conrad, a former prosecutor in the same office as Stedman, exchanged words after the motion was filed. Conrad called the motion a "bully tactic" and Stedman responded that Conrad's "accusations" were "idiotic."
The original motion, filed on Jan. 3 by prosecutors Mark Fetterman and Christine Wilson, argued that Conrad's meeting with Heller yielded crucial details about the Klinger-Heller relationship.
Prosecutors plan to use Klinger's previous abusive behavior toward Heller as a motive for the homicide, the motion states.
Stedman said previously that he was concerned that Conrad staying on the case could present appeal issues down the road.
"These are serious issues and this is as serious of a case as you get," Stedman previously said. "Our focus is on the facts and doing all that we can to see that fair and impartial justice is done in the courtroom."
Prosecutors intend to seek a first-degree murder conviction, alleging that Klinger suffocated Heller when he realized she survived the high-speed crash in Rapho Township on Dec. 4.
Klinger had previously threatened to crash his car while Heller was a passenger, and prosecutors allege that's what happened on Route 283 the day she died.