Percy Haines was already a condemned man when he walked into the old courthouse on the Square in Carlisle 60 years ago this month.
The Newville area man was very familiar with the second-floor courtroom – the scene of both his crime and his jury trial in the murder of local attorney John D. Faller Jr.
Twenty-eight months before, on Aug. 2, 1955, Haines was sitting at a table in front of the bench when Cumberland County Judge Mark Garber handed down the ruling in the non-support action.
Lulu Haines of Waynesboro had filed suit against her divorced husband who was ordered by Garber to pay the woman $50 a month.
The murder victim was seated between Lulu and her attorney George Black of Chambersburg. Faller had nothing to do with the case. Court procedure required a local attorney to sit in as an associate counsel when a lawyer from outside the county appears in court.
No one was aware that Percy had sewed into his undershirt a pouch concealing a handgun. Suddenly the sandy-haired farmer with a thin, ruddy face leapt from his chair, pulled out the weapon and fired four quick shots wounding Lulu, her attorney George Black, Faller and the judge.
Faller was hit in the upper right chest and managed to escape out the southeast door of the courtroom. He then crawled on his hands and knees down the front stairs, across the main corridor and into the clerk of courts office. There Faller collapsed only to die less than an hour later at Carlisle Hospital.
Black and Garber also escaped the courtroom to safety out in the Square – the judge taking the time to call for an ambulance. The rampage ended when George Geiger, the court stenographer, subdued Percy and held him at bay with the revolver until police could arrive on the scene.
The first bullet fired by Haines struck his estranged wife in the abdomen. She was hospitalized in critical condition for four days. Lulu recovered to testify not only at the early September 1955 murder trial but also at a follow-up trial in December 1957 during which her former husband faced felony counts of assault with intent to kill the three other victims wounded in the courtroom shooting.
The jury in September convicted Percy Haines of first-degree murder and recommended a sentence of life in prison instead of the death penalty. To avoid a conflict of interest, Judge W. Clarence Sheely of Adams County presided over both trials because Garber and Cumberland County President Judge Dale Shughart were prosecution witnesses.
It was Haines himself who was partly responsible for the timing of his second trial. Newly approved legislation required that a prison inmate with pending charges must be tried within 180 days of him requesting a trial on those indictments.
The Sentinel had staff posted outside the old Courthouse on Dec. 11, 1957, when Percy Haines arrived on the Square and entered the building flanked by county sheriff Clyde Fisher and deputy sheriffs Bob Adams and William Minnich. A reporter described Haines as neatly dressed and a bit heavier than what he looked like in September 1955.
That first court appearance, a formal arraignment, lasted only eight minutes. As Clerk of Courts Henderson Humrich asked the defendant how he pleaded to each charge, Haines replied in firm voice “not guilty.” Sheely then asked Haines if he had an attorney to represent him on the assault charges.
“No, and I don’t have any money to hire a lawyer,” Haines told the judge. “I’ll defend myself.” Sheely then told Haines he would appoint legal counsel. Court was adjourned while the judge arranged to have attorneys selected to represent Haines whose trial started on Dec. 18.
As he waited for the judge to begin the arraignment, Haines nervously chewed gum. This was in keeping with his demeanor during the September 1955 trial during which reporters described Percy as being mostly calm and collected but prone to occasional signs of worry. The defendant was seen biting his lips, rubbing his hands together and chewing gum. When asked how he wished to be tried on the murder charge, Haines managed to say “By God and my country” in a soft, quivering voice.
Confronting the witness
The prosecution testimony during the December 1957 trial mirrored that of the earlier trial as each victim described what happened and the extent of their gunshot wounds. Black was hit in the upper right arm while Garber was struck in the left arm above the elbow. District Attorney Clinton Weidner rested his case around 1:52 p.m. Dec. 18.
At that point, Haines addressed the court telling Sheely that he desired to meet his accusers face-to-face rather than have his court-appointed lawyers question them on the stand. Though Sheely granted his request, Haines only called one witness – George Black, Lulu’s attorney. The Sentinel reporter picks it up from there:
“After Haines interrogated Black on his name, age and profession, he attempted to go into the background which led up to the shooting, but Sheely told the defendant the questions were not relevant and would have to be confined to the issues which took place in the courtroom on Aug. 2, 1955.”
Appearing outwardly calm, Haines consulted with his attorneys and, after a delay of 10 minutes, Black was excused. Haines then took the stand in an attempt to convince jurors his actions were justified and made in self-defense.
Under direct examination by defense attorney James Arnold of Camp Hill, Haines testified he brought the .22-caliber revolver into the courtroom that day because he believed his life was in danger. Percy testified that on four occasions during their marriage Lulu tried to poison him, and one time he found a sliver of glass in a sandwich she had made for him.
Haines told the court and jury he was “burning up” over the decision by Garber to award Lulu $50 a month in support. “When the judge ordered me to pay the money it was a holdup,” Haines said. “Whoever got shot, it was their own tough luck.” He compared the ruling by Garber to a bank heist perpetrated by robbers.
“He termed the entire proceedings a frame-up to wreck him financially and under cross-examination by Weidner testified he did not intend to kill anyone,” The Sentinel reported. “Haines declared Garber never showed him the law justifying the court order to pay his wife support money and testified that is, according to the dictionary, a ‘hold-up.’”
The Commonwealth then called Lulu Haines as a rebuttal witness. She denied allegations she tried to poison her husband and disputed his claim that she kept a light on at night as a signal to another man to engage in a tryst.
Judge Sheely handed the case over to the jury of seven men and five women around 10:32 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19, 1957. The panel deliberated until about 11:13 a.m. when they asked for instructions from the court.
Specifically, they were wondering if intent to kill had any time limit. The judge said no. A half hour later, at 11:42 a.m. the jury convicted Percy Haines on the three felony counts of assault.
While the jury deliberated, Sheely heard Haines’ appeal for a writ of habeas corpus during which the defendant asked to be released from the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Haines claimed his constitutional right to a fair trial was violated when he was not allowed during the murder trial to offer testimony on what caused the shooting. He blamed it on the non-support hearing.
Following the jury verdict, Sheely sentenced Haines to 3.5 to 7 years on each charge with all that time to run consecutively. That meant that 10.5 to 21 years were added to the sentence of life imprisonment. Haines never made it out and would later die in prison.
On Dec. 18, Haines told the judge that because the assault charges were crimes of lesser degree than murder, the sentences for all three should be made concurrent with life imprisonment. That attempt to sway the judge failed.