William F. Smithson, a gay man convicted of murdering a coworker six years ago, is headed back to court this fall for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether he should get a new trial.
In 2008, Smithson was convicted of murdering coworker Jason Shephard and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Smithson maintains his innocence, and contends his trial attorney, G. Guy Smith, was ineffective during his murder trial.
During an Aug. 2 court proceeding, Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Barry C. Dozor said an evidentiary hearing was necessary, before he decides whether Smithson should have a new trial.
The evidentiary hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 17 at the Delaware County Courthouse, 201 W. Front St., Media, in a courtroom to be announced.
According to the prosecution, Smithson lured Shephard into his home, slipped him the “date-rape” drug gamma hydroxybutyrate, then strangled him to death in the course of trying to rape him.
But Smithson contends that Shephard willingly came to his home on Sept. 18, 2006, partly for the purpose of having sex — which the two men had also engaged in the day before, according to Smithson.
In his petition for a new trial, Smithson refers to another man in the house, F. Bruce Covington, as a “prime suspect.”
However, Covington was never called as a witness during Smithson’s trial.
Smithson’s petition also states that other important witnesses weren’t subjected to cross-examination during his trial, including a serologist and toxicologist whose findings contributed to the belief that Shephard had GHB in his system when he died, and Smithson’s niece.
Instead, others testified on their behalf or read statements to jurors that purportedly were made by the witnesses.
In a related matter, Dozor recently appointed attorney Henry DiBenedetto-Forrest to assist Smithson during the evidentiary hearing.
DiBenedetto-Forrest replaces Stephen D. Molineaux, another court-appointed attorney for Smithson who was dismissed from the case after he said publicly Smithson’s petition for a new trial lacks merit.
Disability group speaks out against Chick-fil-A
Thomas H. Earle, CEO of Liberty Resources Inc., a local disability-rights group, has publicly denounced Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s opposition to marriage equality.
In an Aug. 10 letter to Cathy, Earle stated he no longer will patronize the restaurant chain — and he’s encouraging others to avoid eating there too.
“A good deal of our work is accomplished during lunch and dinner meetings, for which we usually order food for attendees,” Earle told Cathy, in the letter. “We cannot support or patronize Chick-fil-A after hearing such intolerant exclusionary statements.”
In the letter, Earle also drew a connection between the civil rights of the disabled community and the LGBT community.
The letter will be posted on Liberty Resource’s website, which is accessed by about 8,000 consumers locally, Earle said.
He said Liberty Resources also networks with many other community-based organizations in the region, who will be informed of the letter.
At press time, Earle hadn’t received a response from Chick-fil-A, he said.
Antibias employment complaint settled
The antibias complaint filed by Anthony Alvarez — a gay man who says workplace harassment at a local Holiday Inn cost him a job — has been settled, according to records released by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations last week.
Alvarez worked as a laundry attendant at the Holiday Inn Stadium hotel for a brief period last year, before he resigned due to alleged workplace harassment and gender-stereotyping.
The hotel is located 900 Packer Ave. in South Philadelphia.
Coworkers at the hotel allegedly hurled antigay slurs at Alvarez and treated him differently because of his sex, according to a complaint Alvarez filed with the PCHR last October.
PCHR commissioners formally closed the case at their Aug. 17 public meeting.
Terms of the settlement are confidential.
Alvarez was represented in the matter by Mazzoni Center.
David R. Rosenblum, Mazzoni Center legal director, said he’s precluded from discussing details of the settlement.
“We are happy that we could help Mr. Alvarez resolve this matter expeditiously, without the need for costly and protracted litigation,” Rosenblum told PGN. “We are lucky to have a strong Fair Practices Ordinance in Philadelphia that includes protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender stereotyping.”
Penelope Jones, an attorney for the hotel, couldn’t be reached for comment.
— Timothy Cwiek Voter-ID session
With Election Day fast approaching, a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers is looking to ensure voters know the ins and outs of the state’s new voter-identification law.
State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D-190th Dist.), along with Reps. Ronald Waters (D-191st Dist.) and Michelle Brownlee (D-195th Dist.), will host an information session from 1-4 p.m. Aug. 24 at Mt. Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church, 647 N. 42nd St.
“We want to make sure people know the details of the new voter-ID law,” Brown said. “That’s why these meetings are so important — to get the word out and make sure that everyone has the appropriate ID for voting so they won’t be turned away at the polls in November.”
The session will include participation from the Department of Transportation, Committee of Seventy, Vital Records, City Commissioners Office, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, Skyler Group and Philadelphia Law Center.
Those who have questions about the law can also contact Brown’s office at 215-879-6615 or by visiting 1435 N. 52nd St.
Charges lowered in priest case
A judge last week dropped the felony charges against a priest accused of assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the 1990s.
Municipal Court Judge Karen Simmons dismissed sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charges last Thursday against the Rev. Andrew McCormick. McCormick, 56, still faces misdemeanor charges of indecent assault, child endangerment and corruption of minors.
The District Attorney’s Office refiled the charges Wednesday, and a Court of Common Pleas judge will deliver a ruling on the felony charges in the next month.
McCormick was accused of grooming an altar boy at St. John Cantius in Bridesburg and threatening the boy after the alleged assault.
Simmons based her decision on testimony the alleged victim, now 24, delivered last Thursday. The man told the court that McCormick attempted to force him to perform oral sex on him in the church rectory and pushed his penis into his front teeth twice, but it did not pass beyond his teeth.
The DA, however, said in a statement that prior case law had established that any contact between the sex organ and a minor’s mouth, whether inside or outside, would qualify for the involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charge.
McCormick remains free on bail. An October hearing on the misdemeanor charges has been delayed pending a ruling on the felony charges.
— Jen Colletta