MIFFLINTOWN - The attorney representing a woman convicted of first degree murder has filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of his client.
Brenda S. Smith was found guilty of intentionally shooting her son-in-law Michael J. Hockenberry following a week long jury trial that ended on Feb. 3. She was subsequently sentenced to life in prison by President Judge Kathy A. Morrow.
Hockenberry was found by police slumped over in a computer chair at his residence on Cedar Street in Mifflintown on Sept. 16, 2010. A small pistol was found in his lap and police observed two gun shot wounds to either side of his head, later determined to be entrance and exit wounds from a single bullet.
Brenda S. Smith
Defense attorney Don Zagurskie had filed a lengthy post sentencing motion with the trial court in Feburary and asked for a new trial, however that was recently struck down. Some of the issues brought forth in that particular motion stemmed from claims that the statements made by Smith in a recorded conversation with her husband while she was incarcerated awaiting trial, were acquired "surreptitiously" by the prosecution, without a warrant which violates Pennsylvania's Electronic Surveillance Control Act, the "Wiretap Law."
In addition, the defense strenuously asserts Smith was not properly Mirandized by police when she was questioned on the night of Hockenberry's death. The defense also revisited the issue of change of venue and change of venire, brought forth prior to the trial and were subsequently rejected by the court. The defense contends the jury pool was tainted by on-going media coverage by three local newspapers, including The Sentinel.
"I will be pursuing on appeal all issues previously articulated in our post-sentencing motion which were all denied by operation of law. I strongly believe that Superior Court will find merit in those legal issues we have raised pre-trial, during the trial and post-trial and provide Brenda Smith appropriate relief," Zagurskie said.
During the trial, lead investigator, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Blaine Henderson testified his purpose in questioning Smith the night of the shooting was merely standard procedure, because she was one of the last people to see the victim alive.
According to court documents, on the night of Hockenberry's death, Smith came to the State Police Barracks to report she had been assaulted by the victim, who hit her with a TV tray. Smith then went to the hospital for treatment of her injuries, while the police went to question Hockenberry, who was later found dead in his home.
Henderson testified that at the time, he was leaning toward suicide as Hockenberry's cause of death, given Smith's initial statement to police whereby she claimed to have heard gunshots as she and her daughter along with her grandkids were leaving the Cedar Street residence.
Henderson testified Smith later returned to the barracks to be interviewed by police and she changed her story several times, before finally admitting to shooting Hockenberry in the side of the head.
Pending further court action Smith remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Facility in Muncy.