2013-01-23 / Local & State

Unger Wins Retrial In Murder Case

Escape artist serving life sentence in Md.
By Jean Snyder

Merle W. Unger Jr., a convicted killer who once had ties to the Fulton County area, will receive a new trial nearly 38 years after he shot and killed an off-duty police officer in Hagerstown, Md.

Unger, a Greencastle native who once lived in the Shade Gap area, has spent most of his adult life in prison and is well-known for his many escapes from prisons and jails in past years. News accounts have set his number of escapes as at least eight.

Unger, now 63, is serving a life sentence for the December 13, 1975, shooting of Donald “Barney” Kline, who was off- duty when he responded to a report of an armed robbery at a Hagerstown corner grocery. Unger was shot in the chest and abdomen, and Kline was shot three times in the chest. He died 45 minutes later.

According to published reports, in May 2012 the Maryland Court of Appeals granted Unger a retrial due to the fact that during the original murder trial, the judge’s instructions to the jury denied him the due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

Despite Maryland’s attempts to stop a retrial, Unger’s new trial is set to begin the week of June 10, in Talbot County, Md.

A career criminal, Unger has, over the years, escaped many times from jails and prisons in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Florida, including the Franklin County, jail that was then located on Franklin Farm Lane in Chambersburg.

According to published reports, he has been seeking a new trial since 1997, when he raised the issue that the judge at his murder trial had not allowed jurors to consider lesser charges.

The late Blake Martin, a Franklin County public defender who came to know Unger when he defended him when Unger was only 17, once said it was Unger’s goal to be arrested in all 50 states and to escape from prisons and jails in all 50 states.

In November 1990 he escaped from DeSoto Correctional

Institution in Arcadia, Fla., and was recaptured several days later in Virginia after wrecking his car.

Unger was serving a 30- year term in Florida for burglary, aggravated assault, grand theft and grand theft auto for an August 1981 robbery. He was due to be sent to Maryland by December 1 1990, to start serving the life sentence for the killing of Kline.

Prior to the Florida escape, Unger had escaped from Patuxent prison in Maryland just days before he was to stand trial for Kline’s murder and was captured a month later in Orlando, Fla.

Unger has most recently been incarcerated in the North Branch Correctional Facility in Cumberland, Md.

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