A brazen “assassination,” the strange discovery of a human brain and the continued rise of heroin and opioid use put their marks on the criminal justice system in 2016.
Overall, violent crime in Cumberland County was up slightly compared to 2015, with the majority of the increase being in misdemeanor or lower-level offenses, according to an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.
However, one case stands out.
American Legion shooting
Shortly before 1 a.m. June 11, 30-year-old Daniel Harris Jr. was shot and killed while sitting inside the Haines Stackfield American Legion on West Penn Street in Carlisle.
Police described the shooting in the middle of a crowded bar as an “assassination.”
“One of the difficulties of this case was that the shooting happened in a room full of people and nobody saw anything,” Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said.
The Legion shooting appeared to be turning out similar to a spate of shootings within the borough in the year before Harris’ death. The shootings would occur, police would investigate but those with the most useful and intimate knowledge of the incident refused to cooperate.
“When you are in a relatively small community and people are getting arrested for things, I don’t think you will ever have perfect relations between the police, and especially with the families and friends of the people who are arrested,” Freed said. “Carlisle Police Department has done a good job. They work hard, and even in light of lack of cooperation continue to work the cases.
“I don’t believe … we single anyone out or treat anyone unfairly,” he added. “… However, you’d have to be less than thoughtful to not consider the feelings of people in the community. Whether we believe they are warranted or not, we have to be considered and those community relations need to be considered.”
A grand jury was convened to investigate the shootings. This allowed authorities to compel testimony and provide anonymity to witnesses.
While Freed said he quickly became a suspect in the shooting, it took four months before Robert “Rocky” Anderson, 38, of Carlisle, was charged in Harris’ killing.
At a press conference in October, Freed said Anderson and Harris had a long-standing feud that encompassed several of the shooting incidents in the borough and ultimately led to Harris’ killing.
Anderson is the first person to be charged with criminal homicide in Carlisle since 2013 and only the second since 2010, according to court records.
Freed attributed a drop in violent crime in the borough to many of the people in the feud being locked up, but said he was concerned what could happen once they are released.
“There is definitely a concern for what happens when they get out,” Freed said.
Anderson is in prison with bail denied and is awaiting trial.
“Heroin and opioids are just so dominant in what’s going on around here,” Freed said.
There were 66 overdose deaths in Cumberland County in 2016, according to Coroner Charley Hall.
Of those, 51 were opiate related with the largest portion – 38 deaths –attributed to heroin or a mix of heroin and fentanyl, Hall said.
Nearly half of all the people who died of an overdose in the county last year had been charged with a criminal offense during the last five years, according to an analysis of court and coroner records.
Many of these people were involved in the criminal justice system at the time of their deaths.
In one case, a 25-year-old man who had been charged with a drug offense died of an opiate-related overdose in Mechanicsburg while awaiting his preliminary hearing.
A 23-year-old man died in March in Lemoyne of an accidental opiate-relate overdose while awaiting trial after being charged with possession with intent to deliver.
In January, a 29-year-old man died at West Shore Hospital of an accidental opiate-related overdose just six days after pleading to a drug-related charge.
In total 10 people died of drug overdoses after being charged with a crime but before being sentenced, according to court and coroner records.
Several others died while on parole or within a few months of the disposition of their cases, like a 34-year-old man who died of an accidental overdose of heroin and fentanyl less than one month after completing his sentence for retail theft.
All those who died of a drug overdose in 2016 were listed as white, according to coroner records.
The average age of drug overdose victims was 39, with the oldest person being 88 and the youngest 18, according to coroner records.
The brain in a Wal-Mart bag
In one of the weirder stories to come out of 2016, a human brain believed to have been stolen from a teaching hospital was found hidden inside a Wal-Mart shopping bag under a porch in Penn Township.
Joshua Lee Long, 26, of Carlisle, was charged in July with abuse of a corpse after a brain was found under the porch of a home owned by Robbie Lee Zoller, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
The two were using the formaldehyde that was being used to preserve the brain – which Zoller and Long named “Freddy” – to dip marijuana in before smoking it, police said.
Police were alerted to “Freddy” after one of Long’s relatives found it while cleaning out Zoller’s home while Long was in prison and Zoller was wanted on burglary charges, police said.
In a phone call from prison, Long admitted that it was a human brain and that the two used the formaldehyde to smoke “wet” marijuana, police said.
Long, Zoller and several others have also been charged in a string of burglaries throughout the Midstate that included the theft of nearly $200,000 in electrical components, according to police.
Zoller and Long are both listed as inmates at Cumberland County Prison.