Two-and-one-half years ago, Raymond Rowe pleaded guilty before a Lancaster County judge to raping and murdering 25-year-old schoolteacher Christy Mirack in her Greenfield Estates townhouse in East Lampeter Township on Dec. 21, 1992.
Rowe, 52, did not say why he committed the crimes, just that he was sorry.
The plea took the death penalty off the table and avoided a trial in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole and an additional 60-120 years tacked on.
Now, the once-popular local entertainer known as DJ Freez says he didn’t kill Mirack and he wants a trial.
He is expected to appear before Judge Dennis Reinaker Thursday for the continuation of a post-conviction relief act hearing that began last Thursday.
Rowe, in his PCRA petition, said he and Mirack “had a consensual sexual relationship, and they had met in Ms. Mirack's apartment before.”
“On the morning of December 21, 1992, Rowe arrived in the morning and was let into the apartment by Ms. Mirack. They engaged in voluntary sexual intercourse," and then Rowe left, the documents state. “Rowe did not bludgeon, attack, strangle, or sexually assault Ms. Mirack. She was alive and uninjured when he left.”
Rowe offers six alternate suspects, but none by name.
A PCRA challenge is not the same as an appeal, though the goal can be the same.
“Your direct appeal is a substantive appeal. An error of law by the court. Insufficient evidence to sustain a verdict. A challenge of pretrial rulings, or prosecutorial misconduct,” said Lancaster defense attorney Chris Patterson, who is not involved in the Rowe case.
An appeal can lead to a new trial, reduced sentence or acquittal. The PCRA process can lead to a new trial.
“The PCRA is an alternate, collateral process. It’s designed to safeguard and protect the rights of people who have been convicted,” Patterson said.
Reinaker could have dismissed Rowe’s PCRA filing, but he granted a hearing. If a judge denies a PCRA filing, a defendant can then appeal that decision.
“I wouldn't read into the fact that (Reinaker) gave Rowe a hearing that he agrees with any of the allegations” that Rowe is now making, Patterson said. “I think in a case of this type a judge, a good judge, has to be cautious and careful.”
In effect, Thursday's hearing continuation is a mini-trial in which Rowe is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea and get a trial that was taken off the table when he pleaded guilty.
Reinaker’s options are to allow Rowe to withdraw his guilty plea, or to deny his request.
If Reinaker does not allow Rowe to withdraw his plea, Rowe could appeal to a state appeals court. If he does allow Rowe to withdraw the plea, then Rowe would get a trial.
Rowe is also asking for DNA testing on a toaster and cutting board that had been under the toaster and used in the attack. Reinaker could grant the DNA testing irrespective of how he rules on the PCRA, according to Rowe’s attorney, Todd M. Mosser.
According to Rowe’s filings, his DNA won’t be on the toaster or cutting board and that “quite likely, DNA from one of the alternative suspects will be on those items.”
If Reinaker were to deny the PRCA but allow testing of that evidence and something turns up, Rowe could file another PCRA, according to Mosser.
Among the reasons to seek post-conviction relief are: claiming one’s attorney was ineffective, that constitutional violations occurred, or that there’s new evidence.
Rowe is claiming new evidence was revealed in a November 2019 episode of “On the Case with Paula Zahn” that was about the Mirack murder.
Had Rowe known of this evidence, he would not have pleaded guilty and instead would have pursued a reasonable doubt defense, his court filings state.
In the episode, an investigator said he thought the entire attack happened at the front door, not in the living room, where Mirack’s body was found.
Investigators also talked of Mirack being targeted, and the words “stalk” and “peeping Tom” were used in the show.
“Rowe never stalked Ms. Mirack, nor did he ever hide outside her window and peep into the apartment,” Rowe’s filing states. “Moreover, had it been known that the entirety of the sexual assault happened at the door, the defense could have focused an investigation on that piece of evidence which would have yielded exculpatory evidence.”
But the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office counters there is no new evidence.
That a “peeping Tom” had looked into the window of the apartment Mirack shared with her two roommates months before the murder had long been known by investigators and had been turned over to the defense, prosecutors argued in a court filing asking the judge to dismiss the PCRA. (Mirack had two roommates for much of 1992, but one moved out after marrying in the fall, leaving her with one at the time of her murder.)
And the fact that one investigator theorized the attack took place at the door had also been shared with Rowe’s defense attorneys before he pleaded guilty.
In his response, Rowe’s filing states that prosecutors wanted to have the “peeping Tom” both ways.
“But before the Zahn interview, law enforcement had not acknowledged that the peeping Tom (who had theretofore been dismissed as insignificant) was the one who had the determined mission of rape and death,” the filing said. “In other words, on one hand, the discovery revealed mention of a peeping Tom that seemed insignificant given one witness' dismissal of the incident as having been perpetrated by a ‘neighborhood boy;’ on the other hand the District Attorney postulated that Ms. Mirack was ‘targeted’ (which could have been by anyone she knew); but the connection between the two wasn't made until the Zahn interview.”
At last week’s hearing, Rowe testified that conditions in Lancaster County Prison and pressure from his attorney, Patricia Spotts, eventually wore him down, so he pleaded guilty.
Spotts is expected to testify at Thursday’s hearing and rebut Rowe’s claims about the defense team’s handling of the case.
Rowe had never been a suspect in the killing until 2018, when genetic genealogy led detectives to Rowe; crime scene DNA matched DNA that Rowe’s half sister uploaded to a public genealogy database.