In 1976, Clair Kepner, 30, and her two small children, ages 10 years and 18 months, were found brutally murdered in their Muncy home. Now, 36 years later, a deal with the district attorney's office has freed one of the men convicted in the crime.
Milton Scarborough, 73, who at the time of the murders was a handyman and sawmill worker and lived in Muncy, recently was resentenced to time served and 24 years of probation by Judge Marc F. Lovecchio. In exchange for resentencing, Scarborough agreed to withdraw his petitions to the court, including those seeking to admit sworn recantations from witnesses.
His original sentence in 1977 was for 30- to 60-years for three counts of third-degree murder.
"If Mr. Scarborough was granted a new trial at this late date, it would have been impossible for us to prosecute him. Some witnesses have since died, others have recanted and memories have faded. It is for that reason that we reached the compromise," District Attorney Eric Linhardt said.
Leonard N. Sosnov, one of Scarborough's attorneys, called the compromise "bittersweet."
"We would have liked to have proven Milton's innocence at a new trial, but freedom is the most important thing," Sosnov said.
Scarborough, who always has maintained his innocence, fought to overturn his conviction for decades, exhausting his appeals through state and federal courts. His convictions of third-degree murder, burglary, robbery and conspiracy still stand.
"None of the courts found him to be innocent. None of them found any error in his trial that would give him the right to a new trial," Linhardt said.
The appeals were denied due to the failure of Scarborough's former counsel to present new evidence of his innocence to the court within 60 days of discovery. Scarborough's current counsel, Sesnov and David Rudovsky, filed a petition challenging the 60-day rule, claiming that former counsel had failed to sufficiently protect Scarborough's rights. The petition was among those withdrawn as part of the deal with the DA.
"We conducted an extensive investigation where we interviewed close to 200 people. There's no question in our mind that Milton Scarborough was a completely innocent man," said Jim McCloskey, of Centurion Ministries.
Hoping to prove his innocence, Scarborough contacted Centurion Ministries in 1994. The New Jersey-based non-profit seeks to vindicate those whom it believes to be wrongly convicted individuals sentenced to life imprisonment or death. Centurion referred his case to Sesnov and Rudovsky.
"This is not a case of wrongful conviction. Mr. Scarborough is not factually innocent," Linhardt said.
Among the evidence that would have been presented if Scarborough was granted a new trial are sworn recantations by multiple eyewitnesses corroborating Scarborough's innocence.
"We would have presented the testimony of Mr. Shafer, who would have said Milton had nothing to do with it," Sosnov said.
John Shafer, the prosecution's only eyewitness, told police he waited in a car while Scarborough and co-conspirators Robert and David Hubble committed the grisly act.
In exchange for his 1977 testimony, Shafer was granted leniency for outstanding criminal convictions and was not charged with murder, according to reports.
Shaffer since has recanted, although his testimony was never heard before a court.
Prosecution witness Ricky Snyder also recanted. In 1977, Snyder testified that Scarborough and the Hubbles had confessed to the murders at a party on his family's property.
At a 1980 post-trial hearing, Snyder said he had lied "because the police were drilling it into me and said they will help me get out of jail if I go along with it," according to the hearing transcript, one of his current lawyers said.
A judge at that hearing concluded that Snyder's recantation was not credible.
"The mere fact that an individual has recanted is certainly important, but ultimately those witnesses need to appear before a court. There were never any judicial determinations that subsequent recantations were any more credible than (Snyder's)," Linhardt said.
In what Rudovsky calls "another indication of his innocence," Scarborough refused to accept a 1977 deal with the DA that would have given him a non-custodial probation sentence in exchange for his testimony against the Hubble brothers.
Milton told his lawyer he couldn't do it because he had no knowledge of the crime, according to Sesnov.
"If he had testified to the state as they wanted him to, he never would have spent one day in jail," Sesnov said.
This time around, Scarborough opted to take the DA's deal rather than fight for exoneration at a retrial.
"Faced with the prospect of freedom now or continuing to fight, I think he made the right choice," Rudovsky said.
The DA offered Scarborough the deal only after gaining approval from the victim's family, the original prosecutors and the original state police investigators. Scarborough, now infirm and in a wheelchair, will be on supervised probation for the rest of his life.
"I did take some testimony regarding his financial circumstances and at this point, he's destitute. I think he has $12 to his name," Lovecchio said.
As a condition of his release, Scarborough is not permitted to have any contact with the victim's family, prosecutors or police who were involved with the prosecution.
"I give credit to the DA for coming to a final resolution, which I think was a fair compromise, given all the circumstances," Rudovsky said.
According to a report, Scarborough is staying with his niece in Tioga County.