Remembering the Joy O’Shea-Woomer Trial

By on June 19, 2018

News Editor Patrick Burns ‘ new column debuted June 14

This week I Remember the Joy O’Shea Woomer trial.

It’s been several weeks since I took over as news editor and it’s been a learning experience — a few bumps but I think we’ve established a successful team whose individual

skills complement each other on the Record Express staff. Melissa Hunnefield, features editor, Bruce Morgan, sports editor, and myself were fortunate to recently bring Cory Van Brookhoven aboard. Cory’s vast local knowledge provides limitless feature story ideas peppered with local historical and business insight.

The paper comes to life by Rachel Schlegel, whose design and paginating skills are simply magic. I will continue to cover hard news stories — which I’ve done for five years while working with former editor Steve Seeber — along with correspondent Laura Knowles whose news beats include local government, schools and often the cool stuff that comes along in Lititz.

Anyway, it’s great to finally introduce myself and write my first Record Express column that hopefully offers insight about what makes me tick:


I recently ran into former Sunday News Editor Marv Adams while taking my son Michael to a pre-orientation at Lancaster Catholic High School, where my daughter Maggie is a rising senior.

Marv, who serves as a substitute teacher and LCHS softball coach, was always one of my favorite editors. We got to talking about the old days when three entirely separate staffs made up LNP through the independent publications: Intelligencer Journal, New Era and Sunday News.

It also brought back vivid memories of when Marv assigned me to cover Joy O’Shea-Woomer’s murder trial for the Sunday News in December 2009. I’d recently been downsized — when our three papers merged staffs into LNP — but immediately signed a freelance contract with LNP, a company I was very familiar and comfortable with.

I was grateful to Marv for the murder trial assignment. I worked a good bit on police and courts toward the end of my days, and ultimately the Intelligencer Journal’s last days, and always provided extra copy on Friday for Marv to use in that weekend’s Sunday News.

Anyway, my coverage of O’SheaWoomer’s trial was the most fascinating assignment in my three decades as a journalist. It was also my first experience working so closely with Marv and the Sunday News team, which featured Barb Roda, now LNP’s Community Liaison.

Marv was probably comfortable allowing me to cover my first murder trial because I had written so much about the unique circumstances involving the alleged murder of 11-year-old Brent Weaver who died Sept. 27, 2002, under the care of Woomer, a visiting, licensed practical nurse who was filling in for the boy’s regular nurse.

A local jury seven years later found that Woomer gave Weaver a fatal dose of morphine while the boy’s parents slept upstairs. What was fascinating about the case was the jury convicted her with no physical evidence and no real motive.

The latitude some government agencies have on Right-to-Know
requests is evident in how it corresponds to the Pennsylvania
Board of Probation and Parole which refused a request for denied-parole documentation for Joy O’Shea Woomer, who has served almost 10 years of a seven-to-20-year prison sentence.

During my many conversations with  Marv, I said without physical evidence I felt it wasn’t clear who did what. That said, I told Marv the DA didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and we should expect an acquittal.

“Boy was I wrong,” I told Marv upon calling from the courthouse after the verdict. Woomer’s attorney Christopher Patterson appeared surprised by the jury’s decision as he actually wept when I interviewed him outside the courtroom. Some members of the jury also cried while the foreman read the verdict.

Newly elected District Attorney Craig Stedman got a conviction, and Lancaster County Judge David Ashworth ordered a prison term of seven to 20 years, Woomer has always maintained her innocence. Behind bars for nearly 10 years, Woomer was a 20-year licensed practical nurse and mother of two who served dual roles as program director and music coordinator at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church whose list of character witnesses was so numerous that Ashworth had them testify in groups.

Like almost everyone charged with murder in Lancaster County, Woomer was Introducing BTU denied bail and has been locked up since her arrest Oct. 7, 2008. The case alarmed the nursing community who followed the trial very closely. Many nurses lamented to me that what may have ultimately swayed the jury — Woomer’s ex-husband’s testimony that he found needles in her nursing smock — was a common practice by nurses to forget to remove items from their pockets.

I was reminded of this case again at the Warwick Republican Winter Dinner at the Sutter Inn in January whose guest list included most of the parties involved in Woomer’s case: Stedman, Totaro, Patterson, Ashworth and myself.  So many nuances of the case rushed into my head as I recently retold the story to my friends and family. While I knew Woomer had exhausted all of her appeals,I had assumed she would have been paroled by now.

However, that’s not the case.

When I discovered she was still in prison, I filed a RTK Right-To-“No”-Law request to find out why she was denied parole last summer by the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.

What I learned — and what is an associated topic of my story on A1 today — is that prisoners, who, by the way, make up the bulk of RTK requests filed in Pennsylvania, aren’t entitled to hear what the parole board discussed in determining their parole status.


  1. Lisa Feerrar

    January 10, 2019 at 12:25 am

    Hi Patrick. I was a character witness for Joy during that trial, which was a travesty. Because I was a witness, I wasn’t able to be in the court room during the trial. But someone from Joy’s church where she was the music director, was there for every minute of the trial. He said it was “like a death from a thousand cuts”. When Joy’s former husband Ron decided to push in the knife for the final cut, Joy’s fate was sealed. Amaziingly, with no physical evidence and no motive, Joy was convicted. Why? Because Detective Geesey already determined she was guilty. Because she and her family weren’t natives of Lancaster County, even though they were longtime residents. Because no one wanted to believe that the obvious suspect, the boy’s mother, could possibly kill her son. She had more reason than anyone to do it. Why did she beg to have Joy there that night? She prepared his IV bags that day. She was completely overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for him and his siblings. She also is a member of a prominent family in Lancaster County and is well-connected. Joy was neither. Friends and relatives of Joy’s have heard that the reason why Joy was denied release was because of the Weaver family’s influence to keep her in prison.
    You continue to think about this case as we all do. Justice was not served here. An innocent person was framed because of a few powerful people who took “justice” into their own hands, and because of a vengeful husband. A nurse and church music director serving hundreds of people in Lancaster County, and a mother of two, now serves time in prison for a crime she did not commit. It’s a stain on our County, and a black eye that will never heal. Shame on the people who know the truth. There was no justice for Joy.
    Thank you for your objective reporting at the time, and for not forgetting Joy.

  2. Debbie Brown

    February 28, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    I knew Joy for years. Good friends with her Aunt Jo. She is innocent. And someone should have fought harder for her. She does not deserve to be in prison. I pray the truth comes out in this case.

  3. Donna Hershey

    March 15, 2019 at 10:24 am

    this whole case was wrong. I don’t know Joy but I believe she is innocent. District Attorney stated she did it because she didn’t want to be there. A nurse knows if somebody dies on their watch, they aren’t allowed to leave. Joy knew she would be there longer because of the death. She is innocent in my book and no one can change my mind. The mother did it. I hope also the truth comes out some day.

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