Gov. Ed Rendell has signed an execution warrant for a man who murdered a teenager whose body was found in West Manheim Township in 1981.

After more than a decade of silence, John Amos Small, now 49, was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted rape in 1996 by a York County jury. He was sentenced to death.

According to prosecutors, Small and James Frey, 52, formerly of Heidelberg Township, sexually assaulted and beat to death 17-year-old Cheryl Smith in a wooded area in West Manheim Township.

The state Supreme Court affirmed Small's death sentence in November 1999 and denied re-argument in January 2000. Small, formerly of New Oxford, Adams County, was later granted a new trial, but the state Supreme Court reversed that decision and reinstated the death sentence Oct. 5.

Small's execution by lethal injection is set for Dec. 16 at the State Correctional Institution at Greene.

With the warrants signed this week, Governor Rendell has now signed 99 death warrants.

There are 221 people on death row, including 216 men and five women, according to Sue Benzinger, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Corrections. The state's last execution was on July 6, 1999.

Just because an execution date has been set for Small doesn't mean it will take place, Benzinger said. In fact, she said, appeals stopped two death warrants Rendell signed for Small in 2001, she said.

"There are many, many rounds of appeals in the judicial process," she said.


The victim's father, Charles Smith of Conewago Township, Adams County, could not be reached for comment.

The case

Cheryl Smith disappeared Aug. 5, 1981, after a party at a Hanover apartment. Her decomposed body was found by a hunter six weeks later in a wooded area of West Manheim Township known as "The Pines," a popular outdoor party spot.

The case remained unsolved until arrests were made in 1995.

Frey, originally convicted of first-degree murder, won a new trial. He pleaded no contest to third-degree murder and attempted rape and was sentenced to nine to 18 years in prison.

During the 1996 trial, charges were dismissed against a third co-defendant, Charles F. Small, John Small's brother, after investigators confirmed he was living and working in Florida at the time of Smith's murder.

Charles Small, now 53, was arrested again in May 2003 on charges of perjury and false swearing. Judge Sheryl A. Dorney dropped the charges in March because a five-year statute of limitations had expired in 2001. Dorney made the same ruling on the same charges filed against Charles Small's wife, Kathy L. Small, 53, who had testified for her husband in 1996.

Seven other people were charged with hindering the apprehension of a suspect and/or obstruction of justice in the case. Of those, one pleaded guilty to obstruction, another was placed on Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition and the others either had their charges dismissed, were acquitted or were found not guilty.


Other inmates on death row in York County or county-connected cases

  • Kevin Brian Dowling, for the Oct. 20, 1997, shooting death of Jennifer Lynn Myers inside her art and frame shop just outside Spring Grove.

  • Daniel Jacobs for the Feb. 10, 1992, stabbing death of his girlfriend, Tammy Lee Mock of York, and the drowning of their 7-month-old daughter, Holly Danielle Jacobs.

  • Hubert Lester Michael Jr., for the July 12, 1993, abduction and shooting death of 16-year-old Trista Elizabeth Eng in the Dillsburg area.

  • Milton Montalvo and Noel Montalvo, for the April 19, 1998, stabbing deaths of Miriam Asencio-Cruz and Manuel Ramirez Santana, also known as Nelson Lugo, inside the Cruz's York apartment.

  • Paul Gamboa-Taylor, for the May 18, 1991, hammer slayings of four family members: his wife, Valeria L. Gamboa-Taylor; their two children, Paul, 4, and Jasmine, 2; and another child, Lance Barshinger, 2. He received a life sentence for killing his mother-in-law, Donna M. Barshinger.

  • Mark Newtown Spotz, for the Feb. 2, 1995, shooting death of Penny Gunnet, 41, of New Salem, his third victim in a four-day crime spree through central and eastern Pennsylvania. 

    Also of interest

    · Exonerated death-row inmate Ray Krone of York County hopes book will open eyes about capital punishment.