A state prison inmate who has served nearly 30 years of a life sentence for the killings of two elderly Lancaster siblings has failed on his latest appeal.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court this week denied John A. Askew’s latest request for relief, finding the request was decades too late and no newly found evidence allows for exemption to time restrictions.
“There is nothing new here and nothing which warrants relief,” District Attorney Craig Stedman said on Thursday. “The innocent victims suffered horrific deaths as a result of the crimes. They never got to appeal.”
Askew, now 79, is one of four men convicted of killing Horace and Mary Swarr, who were bound and gagged in their West Walnut Street home in 1979. Their home was burglarized.
Two men – Dale Healy and Robert O’Neil – posed as Social Security agents and went inside the home. Askew, lead planner, and George Burkhardt were part of the plot and sharing of the profits.
Afterward, one of the men called authorities and summoned help for the Swarrs, who were still tied. However, he provided a wrong address and emergency-responders went to another home. The siblings were found days later; Mary was dead and Horace died soon after.
Askew was convicted in 1989 of second-degree murder and sentenced to consecutive life terms.
In his latest appeal, filed without an attorney, he argues a number of factors, including his belief that his sentence was unconstitutional.
In denial, the high court writes “the fact that led to (Askew’s) sentence… was his conviction of second-degree murder.”
“It is unfortunate that we continue to have to waste resources on such meritless claims, particularly when it is 27 years after his conviction,” Stedman said.
The four men were not charged until 10 years after the crimes when an informant provided police with names and other information.
Askew’s role included:
- Bringing O’Neil into the plot and having all four men get together to plan
- Leading the plan, including assigning roles and introducing the idea to tie up the Swarrs
- Providing Healy and O’Neil with a briefcase containing a tape and cord used in the bounding
“The terrible facts always stuck with me,” Stedman said. “This case is one of the reasons I will continue to push for more severe penalties for stranger house burglaries.”
Askew, Burkhardt and Healy are serving life terms. O’Neil pleaded to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 8 to 20 years in prison.
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