Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Playing the System: The Martin Appel Case

Phase II

"It would appear that the Appel case should have been an easy one for the prosecution," writes district attorney John Morganelli. "After all, Appel robbed a bank, murdered three people in cold blood, seriously wounded two others, and did so in full view of a number of witnesses who survived to tell about it. Moreover, Appel had confessed on videotape and explained in detail how he planned the crime and executed it." He even agreed that he deserved death. Every "i" had been dotted and "t" crossed. He'd been examined by three mental health professionals and had stated his intention to file no appeal. The judge had given him every chance to change his mind.

District attorney John Morganelli
District attorney John Morganelli

However, Morganelli says, at this point politics and legal hurdles changed the game. Pennsylvania law required a review of all death penalty cases, so its Supreme Court examined the evidence, the way the sentence was imposed, the aggravating circumstances that justified death, and whether the sentence fit the crime. No one had been executed in Pennsylvania in over two decades.

During this time, a television network offered Appel $50,000 for his story, and he prepared to marry his girlfriend so she could inherit it. At this point, his first manipulative maneuver took place. He offered his testimony against Hertzog in exchange for an "intimate" period with his fiancée. Although no one approved the request, he gave testimony anyway, assuming he'd get his wish. He offered several important facts: Hertzog had lent him the money for his gun, had stated he could kill people, and had suggested a diversionary plan for the date of the robbery. It surprised no one that Hertzog was convicted of first-degree murder, receiving a life sentence.

Appel gave his interview for the TV show, and then offered more to local reporters...for a price. He hinted he was frustrated that he'd not yet received the conjugal visit he wanted and said he might stop cooperating. He even told Hertzog's counsel that the district attorney had coached him on what to say in Hertzog's trial. Trouble was clearly brewing. Appel offered to assist in obtaining a new trial for his partner, stating that Hertzog had killed no one and should not be punished as if he had.

Admitting perjury, Appel now provided reasons at a hearing why Hertzog should receive a new trial. He was turning on the district attorney, defiantly strutting his power. He was angry at what he perceived as bad faith.

Governor Robert Casey Sr.
Governor Robert Casey Sr.

Hertzog's request for a new trial was denied, while Appel's death sentence was upheld. His file went to Governor Robert Casey Sr., who delayed a decision. No one from Northampton County could get him to budge, and Appel began writing letters threatening to expose the governor's reticence. The third anniversary of the massacre had passed without significant movement. Appel gave more interviews in which he demonstrated his essentially psychopathic nature, showing he'd known what he was doing and had viewed his victims as expendable.

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