A prison inmate serving decades for killing his girlfriend five years ago cannot take back his guilty plea, a local judge has ruled.
Benjamin Klinger pleaded guilty in August 2014 to third-degree murder for the 2012 killing of Samantha “Sammi” Heller, in exchange for a 28-to-56-year prison term.
Klinger, with Heller as a passenger, drove his car more than 100 mph into a guardrail on Route 283 in Rapho Township. Klinger then suffocated her on the roadside.
Lancaster County Judge Margaret Miller recently denied Klinger’s request to withdraw his plea and go to trial. Klinger argued his attorney gave him bad advice and declined to fully investigate potential defenses.
Judge Miller, in denying the request, wrote there is no merit to Klinger’s claim, finding Klinger has apparently become dissatisfied with his sentence since the plea.
“While the harsh reality of (Klinger’s) lengthy sentence may have finally set in,” Judge Miller wrote, “such reality fails to negate the fact that on August 29, 2014, (Klinger) stood before this court, fully versed in the facts of his case and the charges against him, and entered a knowing and voluntary plea of guilty.
“(Klinger’s) current displeasure with his sentence, or hindsight regret of his decisions, cannot change this.”
Assistant District Attorney Travis S. Anderson represents the Commonwealth for the appeal precedings.
At a hearing last year, Anderson called Klinger’s former attorney to testify of his interactions with Klinger.
The attorney testified he told Klinger it was Klinger’s decision to plead guilty; the attorney said he did not specifically advise Klinger to accept a plea offer.
The attorney explained the challenges Klinger would have faced at trial, including many Commonwealth witnesses who would have testified about the volatile nature of Klinger’s relationship with Heller, and Klinger’s prior threat to intentionally crash his car while she was a passenger.
Assistant District Attorney Christine L. Wilson prosecuted the case.
Manheim police Officer Kristopher Keller filed charges in 2012.
MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @BrettHambright