By Joe Pinchot
FRENCH CREEK TOWNSHIP, Mercer County —
The attorney for a man charged with killing his brother-in-law in French Creek Township has filed a recent motion asking that the charges be dismissed.
Ralph L. Young, 45, of Franklin, is in Mercer County Jail on charges of first- and third-degree murder, arson and abuse of a corpse for allegedly shooting David A. Dignall, 58, of French Creek, pouring a flammable liquid on him and setting the body and Dignall’s van on fire Dec. 20 on Hollobaugh Road.
The charges were held for court at a preliminary hearing in May.
Prosecutors allege the killing was the result of a dispute over the fate of Young’s mother’s 35-acre property near Franklin. Dignall and his wife, Alice, Young’s sister, bought the property and were charging Young rent. Young, who wanted to start some kind of ministry on the property, had been living there rent-free.
Young’s attorney, Alexander H. Lindsay Jr., filed a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the continued jailing of Young.
“The facts alleged against Young are insufficient to establish the finding of a prima facie case and accordingly the charge filed against (Young) must be dismissed,” Lindsay said.
A prima facie case means prosecutors can show that a crime occurred and the accused might have been involved.
Lindsay argued that the only evidence linking Young to “the events surrounding the demise of his brother-in-law ... is DNA evidence on a jug handle found in the victim’s van.”
State police trooper Teddy Geibel testified in May a report from the state police crime lab indicated Young’s DNA “was found on the handle of the clear milk jug, along with two other profiles.”
Investigators were unable to identify the other profiles, Geibel said.
Young voluntarily gave police a DNA sample for comparison.
Lindsay had alleged the DNA evidence was faulty at the preliminary hearing, but District Judge D. Neil McEwen, Pine Township, said the DNA evidence supports other circumstantial evidence, which includes Young’s admission that he had been in the Hollobaugh area to try to find his brother to ask him about brake pads, and a witness description of a man standing in the rain at Hollobaugh and Cochranton roads wearing clothes that Young was seen wearing that day as Dignall’s van drove by.
Police found two milk jugs inside the burned-out van, one containing home heating oil and the other red-dyed diesel fuel. Young’s DNA was found on the jug containing fuel, police said.
Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John has set a hearing on the writ for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 6. St. John had set an earlier date, but Lindsay asked for a delay because of his heavy case load.
Lindsay noted in his motion that, while the hearing will be similar to that of a preliminary hearing, the District Attorney’s office will not be limited to the evidence that was presented at the preliminary hearing. Prosecutors can present additional evidence if they choose.
Pinchot writes for The (Sharon) Herald.