Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Playing the System: The Martin Appel Case

"Necessary End"

Back in prison, Appel began a campaign of letter writing, wherein he told law enforcement he could get his cohort, Hertzog, to confess as well. He wanted some time with Hertzog so he could talk with him. After that, Appel would be ready to testify against him. Ostensibly, Appel wanted the entire thing over with as soon as possible. He waived several hearings in order to accelerate the process. He also gave another confession, reiterating the details on tape in a consistent manner and stating baldly that he would have shot anyone else he saw. The other two employees had just been just lucky.

Appel said he wanted to waive a trial and just plead guilty. He definitely wanted the death penalty and did not wish to bargain for a lighter sentence. He also mentioned that his death might atone for those he had taken, and added that if he received life instead of death, guards were going to die in his attempts to escape. He wanted to be executed within the next six months. It seemed to some that he was bent on becoming the first person to be executed in Pennsylvania since 1962, perversely fulfilling some grandiose fantasy of becoming a historic figure.

For a third time, Appel said he wished to plead guilty and waive counsel, and he asked that the judge decide the case and impose the sentence. He even thanked everyone involved. It all seemed too good to be true, and it was. For Appel, this was just the opening gambit.

On August 7, Judge Freedberg commenced a three-day hearing on Appel's degree of guilt. The DA's office presented witnesses and exhibits to affirm a first-degree, pre-meditated triple homicide, while Appel presented no one on his own behalf. Freedberg found Appel guilty and asked again if he wished to have a jury decide the sentence. He declined, stating he would make no appeal. He also asked that no right-to-life groups file appeals on his behalf.

Carl Panzram
Carl Panzram

While his determination to die was unusual, it was not unprecedented. In 1930 Carl Panzram, who claimed to have killed 21 people, acted as his own attorney to ensure that he would be convicted of another murder and be given the death penalty. He was hanged. Then in the 1970s in Utah, Gary Gilmore, who had killed two men in cold blood, accepted the court's decision to impose the death penalty. He wanted no appeals and fought off groups and individuals that tried to stay his execution. He was executed by firing squad in 1977. In both cases, the offenders had decided they did not wish to spend years incarcerated, as they had already spent most of their lives in some form of detention. In Pennsylvania, during the first decade of the 1900s, another killer also had made this decision.

Gary Gilmore
Gary Gilmore

Appel made no final arguments and affirmed again that he wanted the death penalty, so his wish was granted. To ensure that he was of sound mind, Appel's standby counsel had both a psychiatrist and a psychologist examine him again. Neither found any psychological disorders, although he was viewed as grandiose, compartmentalized, and cold-blooded. The district attorney's office was about to find out just what these labels meant.

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