By JIM RUNKLE
LOCK HAVEN - Shonda Dee Walter has been granted a stay of execution.
Originally scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 22 for the March 2003 slaying of a Lock Haven man, Walter was the subject of an order issued Tuesday by Clinton County President Judge J. Michael Williamson.
Walter, now 30, was convicted on April 18, 2005, in the hatchet killing of her neighbor, 83-year-old James Sementelli, who lived at 17 N. Summit St., Lock Haven.
On March 22, the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania asked the Clinton County Court for a delay so attorney Tracy Ulstad could have time to prepare Walter's post-conviction claims.
In his order, Judge Williamson noted that "no stay may be issued unless a petition for post-conviction relief ... meeting all the requirements, has been filed and is pending, and the Petitioner makes a strong showing of likelihood of success on the merits."
Williamson said the Walter petition couldn't meet the burden of those requirements "based upon the minimal allegations" in her previous post-conviction efforts.
Williamson cited three specific Supreme Court comments that should be reviewed before any penalty is applied:
1. The earlier petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court "asserts one constitutional claim after the other with no legal rationale or authority for any of them."
2. "To the extent (Walter) attempts to make additional constitutional claims, we conclude that they are waived for failure to develop them in any meaningful fashion capable of review."
3. "As a result, we do not understand why (Walter) relied on these cases ... Appellant's argument is vague and confusing. The points she seeks to make are simply incomprehensible."
In the same order, Judge Williamson appointed Ulstad to represent Walter in her continuing efforts, and granted 120 days to file an amended petition.
Williamson also granted Walter the right to proceed as a poor person without payment of costs.
The stay is in place "until a resolution of this litigation under the Post-Conviction Relief Act or until further order of this court," Williamson wrote.
Walter's conviction and sentence of death were affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on March 20, 2009.
Walter is presently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.
Ulstad notes Walter has a pending and unresolved petition for post-conviction relief filed March 19 and claims consideration of that petition "cannot be done in the shadow of an active death warrant."
"This court should not allow Ms. Walter to be executed without a meaningful opportunity to investigate and develop claims for relief, and for those claims to be fully and fairly heard," the petition concludes.
The victim was a veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack that sent the United States into World War II. He died in a hatchet attack at his home in what police said was a theft and murder.
Testimony at the trial suggested Walter befriended Sementelli, then attacked him at his home before stealing a collection of coins and making her escape in his car, which she later tried to sell.