A York defense attorney is stepping in as associate counsel in an Adams County death penalty case.
Suzanne Sennett Smith was appointed June 28 to assist Adams County Chief Public Defender Kristin Rice to the case against Kristopher Gartrell, 48, according to court records.
Gartrell faces charges of murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, kidnap to facilitate a felony, kidnap to inflict terror, forcible rape, arson, burglary, robbery, possessing a firearm when prohibited to do so, and theft by unlawful taking.
“Attorney Smith has significant death penalty case experience. I am currently the only attorney in my office who is certified to handle a death penalty case, so I am grateful to have another very qualified attorney to help me litigate this capital case,” Rice said.
Smith represented Abraham Cruz Jr. at trial in Adams County in early June. Smith said Monday she joined the Gartrell team in June, after finishing the Cruz trial.
“She needed a death penalty certified attorney in addition to herself,” Smith said.
Smith has taken two death penalty cases in York to trial and resolved about 15 other capital cases without trials, she said.
“The goal of death penalty cases is to never have a trial, but sometimes you do have a trial,” Smith said.
When Smith was appointed to represent Cruz, it was a death penalty case. In December, Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett withdrew the prosecution’s intention to seek the death penalty against Cruz. The final chapter in that 39-year-old case closed with Cruz’s June trial.
“I enjoyed working in Adams County,” Smith said. “Everybody was very pleasant to deal with. I have other cases there. It works to pick up another case.”
Gartrell is accused of entering Virginia Barbour’s home in the 100 block of Peach Glen-Idaville Road in Huntington Township on Nov. 21, 2018, through an unlocked door and made the woman give up her “valuables, such as firearms, television, coins, jewelry, etc.,” according to charging documents.
Authorities allege Gartrell admitted to “forcefully” restraining and raping the woman “twice,” according to the affidavit of probable cause.
In January, Adams County prosecutors announced their intent to seek the death penalty against Gartrell.
During that proceeding, Gartrell pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial on the charges.
Gartell’s arrest followed a two-day search that called for the public’s help in identifying and locating a man in photos.
Sinnett previously thanked Barbour’s neighbors for coming forward, which led to an interview with Gartrell’s girlfriend, Sheila Schriver.
Schriver, who has not been charged, eventually told police his whereabouts, according to the affidavit.
Gartrell is alleged to have told police he strangled Barbour to death, rolling “her body in beddings before placing her under her bed.”
The preliminary autopsy results determined Barbour’s cause of death as “asphyxia,” according to testimony at Gartrell’s preliminary hearing.
The coroner’s report ruled the manner of death a homicide.
Gartrell is alleged to have set Barbour’s house on fire and “fled the scene” in her 2012 Chevy Impala along with approximately $1,200 in coins and her firearms, according to the affidavit.
Sinnett said he does not think Gartrell knew Barbour prior to the encounter, or if he was aware, she was in the home when he entered.
Gartrell, a convicted South Carolina rapist, allegedly came to the area to be with Schriver, who supposedly lived with her parents, Sinnett said.
Gartrell allegedly “threatened to harm her children and her parents if she were to go against his wishes,” so Schriver met him at a Rutter’s in Dillsburg and followed him to the Giant parking lot, where he left Barbour’s vehicle, according to statements she made to police.
Schriver paid for multiple hotel rooms for Gartrell, first at the Rodeaway Inn in Dillsburg and then at the Presidential Inn & Suites in Gettysburg.
When troopers arrived at the hotel Nov. 23, Gartrell was seen outside “preparing to leave in a vehicle,” according to the affidavit.
Police took Gartrell into custody, finding the stolen items, which included “the .44 Smith and Wesson revolver, coins, ammunition, a hotel card to the Presidential Inn, and a pair of female panties,” the affidavit read.
According to thestate.com, Gartrell, who had 10 different aliases on the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) page, was noted among 19 most wanted cases in South Carolina and listed as “the most recent absconded case” for failing “to report to the state probation agency on Aug. 4.”
The website listed Gartrell as “a registered sex offender in Greenville County.” His last known address was Haven Rest Ministries Rescue Mission, according to the SLED website.
Gartrell was previously convicted of burglary, kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct, the website read. SLED indicated the conviction date was Dec. 9, 1997, for criminal sexual conduct.
Gartrell was named in a Dec. 3, 1997, article in The Item as a “convicted rapist” who was sentenced to serve 25 years of jail time for “kidnapping and raping a 24-year-old” woman on Aug. 5, 1996.
Gartrell is due back in Adams County court for a pre-trial hearing on Aug. 19 and for plea consideration on Oct. 28, according to court records. He remains in Adams County Prison without bail.