Suspect in Killing of Lancaster Teenager to Get New Attorney
Lancaster attorney Jeffrey Conrad won’t defend Benjamin Klinger at an upcoming homicide trial after all.
Following months of debate over a potential conflict of interest, Conrad has withdrawn as Klinger’s attorney.
Lancaster County Judge Margaret Miller granted the motion to withdraw.
She also sealed a transcript and records of a Monday morning hearing regarding a Dec. 4 car crash in Rapho Township that resulted in Klinger being charged with homicide in the death of a passenger.
Klinger, 20, is charged with intentionally crashing his car on Route 283 and then smothering his ex-girlfriend, Samantha Heller, a 17-year-old McCaskey High School junior.
Also, according to newly filed documents in the case, prosecutors have several witnesses on tap for the February trial who are expected to describe Klinger’s “abusive” behavior toward Heller.
“At least now you don’t have to worry about her getting between me and you,” Klinger told his new girlfriend after Heller died, according to the court filing.
Miller will decide after an October hearing if that statement and other evidence is allowed at trial.
As for the Conrad conflict, the situation sparked a verbal clash between him and District Attorney Craig Stedman.
Stedman believed Conrad’s meeting with Heller in October regarding a separate case involving Klinger made it a conflict of interest for Conrad to represent Klinger in the homicide.
Conrad called Stedman’s motion to have him booted a “bully tactic.” Stedman called that assertion “idiotic.”
Miller ruled in January that Conrad could stay on the case.
Conrad, however, filed a motion this month to withdraw, which Miller granted.
There was no war of words this week. Conrad simply said, “I withdrew as counsel.”
Miller gave Klinger until Sept. 30 to hire a new attorney.
Stedman said Wednesday: “We were always concerned about the conflict, but it does not matter to us who counsel is. What matters is that justice is done on the facts and the law, regardless of who represents the defendant.”
Regarding the evidence motion, prosecutors are asking Miller to allow potentially damaging testimony against Klinger.
The lengthy motion to introduce prior actions — filed by prosecutors Christine Wilson and Mark Fetterman — involves witness interviews and other evidence, including:
• A note seized from Klinger’s car that shows his “motive, intent and absence of a mistake or accident.”
• Information that Heller was at Planned Parenthood the day before she died, but was never seen by a doctor. (Heller had told several people, including Klinger, she was pregnant, police allege. An autopsy revealed she was not pregnant.)
• Evidence that Klinger listed Heller in his cell phone contacts as “Dumb (expletive) Heller.”
• Testimony from Heller’s aunt about bruises she regularly saw on her niece’s body.
• Testimony from acquaintances that Klinger made Heller’s life “a living hell,” and that Klinger once threw her down a flight of stairs.
Prosecutors allege the killing was a final act in a cycle of abuse and will seek a first-degree murder conviction at trial.
Conrad previously said that Klinger was “very much in love” with Heller, while calling the murder allegation “shocking.”
A police officer testified at a preliminary hearing that Klinger’s car was traveling about 115 mph when he hit a guardrail on Route 283. There was no evidence of braking at the scene, the officer testified.
Another officer, first on the crash scene, testified that she found Heller face-down on the ground — with Klinger “sitting” on top of her.
By: Brett Hambright, Lancaster Intelligencer Journal