Judith Fritz

Shortly before 3 a.m. on March 27, 1994, a car carrying three people went out of control on Route 863 in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and rolled about 50 feet before coming to rest on its roof on top of some boulders.

Thirty-three-year-old Randy Schnyder, of New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, was found dead, partially ejected from his vehicle. His live-in girlfriend, 35-year-old Judith Fritz, and another passenger, 30-year-old Robert Pribila, were injured, but survived. None of the three was wearing a seatbelt.

A month later, Fritz was charged with vehicular homicide and drunk driving as well as possession of cocaine, which was found in Fritz's purse.

She went on trial in May 1995. A pathologist testified for the prosecution that based on the position of Schnyder, Fritz and Pribila when authorities arrived at the scene, he believed that Fritz was driving, Schnyder was a passenger in the front seat and Pribila was in the back seat. Pribila testified and said that Fritz was the driver.

Fritz testified and said Schnyder was the driver and she was riding in the front passenger seat. She admitted that the three had been to three taverns that night. She admitted she had four drinks and had used cocaine, but said the cocaine found in her purse belonged to Schnyder.

A jury convicted Fritz of vehicular homicide, driving under the influence and, because she was the driver, possession of the cocaine in the vehicle. Fritz was sentenced to three years in prison, but allowed to remain free on bond while the case was appealed.

On the day she was convicted, Fritz went to the office of attorney Frederick Fanelli and asked that he handle her appeal. Fanelli reviewed the trial record and discovered that Fritz’s defense attorney, a part-time pastor who handled divorce cases, had not consulted an expert to review the state pathologist’s opinion on who was driving.

An expert retained by Fanelli studied the photographs and other evidence of the crash and determined that Schnyder was the driver, not Fritz. Moreover, Fanelli located a witness who saw Schnyder, Fritz and Pribila leave a bar not long before the accident. The witness said he saw Schnyder get behind the wheel and Fritz get into the front passenger seat.

Armed with this new evidence, Fanelli filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted. The state appealed, but in August 1996, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the decision and remanded the case for a new trial.

After Pribila testified that he was no longer sure who was driving the car and Fanelli's expert testified, a jury at the retrial on February 21, 1997, acquitted Fritz of the vehicular homicide charge. The jury convicted Fritz of possession of cocaine and she was sentenced to two years probation and a $2,000 fine.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/29/2013

 

State:Pennsylvania
County:Lehigh
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:Drug Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1994
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:1997
Sentence:3 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age:35
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No