March 23, 2003
Lock Haven, Pennsylvania
23-year-old Shonda Walter kills her 83-year-old neighbor James Sementelli by hitting him over 60 times with a hatchet
Walter had amassed a sizable debt from student loans and court processing fees, and was reportedly afraid she would be sent to jail if she did not pay the court costs. Aside from the debt, Walter also testified she was attempting to be initiated into a gang, and had to commit a violent crime to do so.
On March 23, Walter struck Sementelli 66 times with a 10-inch hatchet: 17 strikes landed on Sementelli’s neck, and 9 to his face and head. He also had defensive wounds. As Sementelli lay dying, Walter carved a cross into his stomach, ate ice cream and watched television in Sementelli’s home, and stole Sementelli’s car.
Walter told a friend about the murder, and the two revisited Sementelli’s home, originally planning to dispose of his body elsewhere. They decided to leave the body but took the murder weapon and a large container holding over $500 in quarters. Another friend helped Walter attempt to sell the stolen vehicle, but a buyer couldn’t be found. Police pulled over the friend while he was driving the stolen vehicle, leading officers to Sementelli’s home and his decomposing body.
Walter turned herself in after hearing of the friend’s arrest, as he was not aware of the murder and she didn’t want him to be face jail time for the killing. Walter was found guilty after the jury deliberated for less than 30 minutes, and was sentenced to death in 2005. Her friends pleaded guilty to lesser charges of being accessories after the fact.
In 2016, Walter’s death sentence was overturned after it was ruled she had a “totally incompetent counsel in the penalty phase.” The prosecution stated they would not seek the death penalty during her second sentencing hearing, and Walter was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In the Supreme Court of the United States SHONDA WALTER, Petitioner, v. COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondent. Death Penalty Info. Accessed: March 23, 2019. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/files/pdf/Shonda_Walter_Petition.pdf
“Sentence tossed for last woman on death row in Pa.” Santa Maria Times. August 7, 2016
“Woman, 25, convicted of killing neighbor, 83.” Indiana Gazette [Indiana, Pennsylvania]. April 19, 2005
“Woman convicted in slaying of neighbor.” Republicans and Herald [Pottsville, Pennsylvania]. April 19, 2005
Lewerenz, Dan. “Woman due trial in man’s murder.” The Tribune [Scranton, Pennsylvania]. May 23, 2003