An attorney who more than 10 years ago assisted in the defense of a 14-year-old Venango County boy who shot and killed his 12-year-old sister has been appointed to come to the defense of an Oil City boy accused of murder.
Franklin attorney Virginia Garris Sharp was appointed by the Venango County court on Friday to defend Zachary James Proper, 13. Proper was charged last week with two counts of criminal homicide after police said he shot and killed his grandparents, George and Dorothy Fross, at their Polk Cutoff home in Sandycreek Township.
Proper is in Venango County jail without bail.
Sharp will again find herself in the middle of a homicide case involving a juvenile.
In 1997, Sharp, at the time a Venango County assistant public defender, along with fellow assistant public defender William Martin, were assigned to the defense of Nathan Norcross. Norcross, then 14 years old, shot his sister multiple times after she threatened to reveal a plot in which he was planning to kill his mothers then-fianc.
Norcross was first charged as an adult, but the case was later moved to juvenile court after Martin and Sharp convinced then-President Judge H. William White that Norcross could be rehabilitated and that a juvenile trial was in the best interest of the public and Norcross.
Whites decision was appealed by the prosecutor, Venango County District Attorney Marie Veon, but the state upheld Whites decision in December 1998. At that time, Norcross pleaded guilty to the homicide charge and was sentenced to a state juvenile detention center.
At the age of 20, Norcross was released to his uncle in 2003 in Venango County.
All supervision ceased Aug. 21, 2003, on Norcrosss 21st birthday.
Sharp did not return a phone call Monday, and it is not yet known if she plans to file a motion to have Proper tried as a juvenile. Proper was scheduled to appear in Central Court on Wednesday, but that preliminary hearing has been continued until Oct. 31.
Veon will be the lead prosecutor in the case, according to court papers. It is not known if Sharps former partner, Martin, who is now the assistant district attorney in Venango County, will be involved in the case.
Several sources had previously listed Oil City attorney Neil Rothschild as Propers attorney. But Rothschild said last week the family had called him for advice the night police began talking to Proper about the incident. Rothschild said he advised the family to stop talking to police until they had legal representation.
Sharp, a 1986 graduate of Rocky Grove High School, graduated summa cum laude with a degree in criminology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1989. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1993.
Sharp has more than 18 years experience in the legal field and served as a law clerk for Venango County judges White and William E. Breene before becoming a county public defender for seven years. She was the head public defender from 1998 to 2001.
Juvenile court motion likely pending
While Sharp did not return a call Monday, it is likely the first order of business will be to try to move Propers case to the juvenile courts.
It took more than a year for Norcrosss case to be transferred to the juvenile courts due to the need for expert testimony and psychological testing. That process cost the county thousands of dollars, with psychiatric evaluations running nearly $45,000 alone.
If tried and convicted as an adult, Proper could face the death penalty or a minimum of life in prison. If tried and convicted as a juvenile, Proper would remain in juvenile custody until the date of his 21st birthday July 27, 2020.