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Wholaver death penalty appeal over 2002 murder of wife, two daughters in Middletown is rejected

Posted 1/12/18

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday handed down a decision affirming the death penalty convictions of Ernest Wholaver Jr. in the 2002 killings of his wife and two daughters at their Middletown …

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Wholaver death penalty appeal over 2002 murder of wife, two daughters in Middletown is rejected

Ernest Wholaver is escorted by Dauphin County Sheriff Jack Lotwick, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004, after being sentence to death for the murder of his daughters and wife on Christmas Eve Day in 2002.
Ernest Wholaver is escorted by Dauphin County Sheriff Jack Lotwick, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004, after being sentence to death for the murder of his daughters and wife on Christmas Eve Day in 2002.
Posted

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday handed down a decision affirming the death penalty convictions of Ernest Wholaver Jr. in the 2002 killings of his wife and two daughters at their Middletown home.

The high court ruling “essentially ends” any further appeals by Wholaver at the state level, said Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo, who prosecuted the case against Wholaver when he was convicted in 2004.

“This is an important step in the process,” Chardo said regarding the decision in an email to the Press & Journal on Friday.

However, Wholaver can still pursue habeas corpus relief at the federal level “and will undoubtably do so,” Chardo added.

“This means he will file a petition in federal court, suing his jailer and challenging his death sentences. The federal courts will have to give due deference to the findings of the state courts in making their decisions.”

In addition, the death penalty in Pennsylvania remains on hold, following a moratorium that was put in place by Gov. Tom Wolf in February 2015.

Hunter Stuart Labovitz, identified in court records as the attorney representing Wholaver, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wholaver, now 57, in 2004 was sentenced to death three times after being convicted by a Dauphin County jury of the murders of his wife Jean and their two daughters, Victoria, 20, and Elizabeth, 14 at their residence in Middletown on Christmas Eve Day, 2002.

Wholaver in July 2002 had been charged with several sexual offenses for alleged conduct involving his two daughters.

After those charges were filed, Jean Wholaver obtained a protection from abuse order against Wholaver. Wholaver left the house and moved into the residence of his mother, father and younger brother Scott in Cambria County.

Wholaver was to go on trial for the sexual offenses involving his daughters in January 2003. Shortly after midnight on Dec. 24, 2002, Wholaver broke into his former residence in Middletown and shot and killed Jean, Victoria and Elizabeth.

Besides the three death penalty murder convictions, Wholaver was also found guilty in 2004 of plotting to hire a hitman to kill Victoria's ex-boyfriend. He was found not guilty of the charges that he molested Victoria and Elizabeth.

Wholaver presented 16 separate issues as grounds for his appeal to the state Supreme Court, including allegations a of prosecutorial and jury misconduct, and ineffective legal counsel.

The high court in its 74-page opinion dismissed all the issues that were raised by Wholaver as being without merit. The opinion can be downloaded by clicking here.

Wholaver is incarcerated in State Correctional Institution Greene located near Waynesburg in Greene County.

Wholaver is one of 169 death row inmates in Pennsylvania, which by state has the fifth highest number of death row inmates as of July, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Pennsylvania has carried out three executions since 1976, all of them inmates who waived their appeals. The last inmate executed in Pennsylvania was Gary Heidnick in 1999, according to the center.

Gov. Tom Corbett had issued a death warrant scheduling the execution of Terrance Williams for March 4, 2014. However, Wolf granted Williams a reprieve.

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