The Lancaster County District Attorney's Office is asking for more time to investigate if there are legal reasons that would allow it to seek the death penalty against the man charged with kidnapping and killing missing Amish teenager Linda Stoltzfoos last June.
Under state law, prosecutors must file notice of reasons to seek the death penalty - called aggravating circumstances - by a defendant's formal arraignment date. That's the proceeding at which a judge explains criminal charges to a defendant and when a defendant must indicate whether they understand them. Defendants also enter a plea.
Justo Smoker, the man charged in Stoltzfoos' death, waived his arraignment Thursday and pleaded not guilty to homicide. His arraignment had been scheduled for Friday. Such hearings are often waived and Smoker waived his arraignment on his initial charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment in August.
Smoker, 34, of Paradise Township, was charged with homicide Dec. 21 - six months to the day the 18-year-old Stoltzfoos went missing while walking from church to her parents’ Upper Leacock Township home.
Her body has not been found.
District Attorney Heather Adams said a decision on the death penalty would be made after the investigation into aggravating circumstances and that Stoltzfoos’ family would be consulted.
Smoker's attorney declined comment.
To seek the death penalty, a person must be convicted of first-degree murder - a premeditated, intentional killing. Then, prosecutors must present at least one of 18 specified aggravated circumstances to the jury, which considers them along with eight specified mitigating circumstances in deciding whether to impose the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Among the 18 aggravating circumstances are: the defendant killed the victim while committing another felony (such as kidnapping); the victim was a prosecution witness killed to prevent their testimony against the defendant in a previous murder or felony; the victim was police officer or firefighter or similar; the victim was tortured to death; the defendant has a previous murder or voluntary manslaughter conviction; the victim was under 12 years of age; the victim was in her third trimester of pregnancy or the defendant knew she was pregnant; or that the victim had a protective order against the defendant.
Mitigating circumstances include such things as the defendant's age; lack of significant prior criminal history; an impaired ability to appreciate the criminality of actions; the defendant's role in the victim's death was relatively minor; and what is essentially a catch-all: any other evidence of mitigation concerning the character and record of the defendant and the circumstances of the offense.
Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania in 2015.
Smoker is being held in Lancaster County Prison without bail.