A new investigator is training his sights on one of the area’s unsolved murders as the victims’ families prepare to observe the 14th anniversary of the double homicide.
Trooper Zachary Yetter, state police at Lewistown, is transitioning from patrol duties to criminal investigation.
As part of his move, he’s been assigned the Nov. 25, 2007, murder of Sherry Jo Leonard and Jason Specht.
“It’s a lot to go through and I still have a lot more reading to do yet,” Yetter, who is just a couple of weeks into his study of the case, said. “I would like to be pro active and see where we can go from here.”
Sherry and Jason, co-workers at Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11, had been dating a few months before they were assaulted at Jason’s mobile home in Granville Township.
According to state police, they were each bludgeoned in bed, then the assailant set the home on fire. Sherry, age 43, perished at the scene from her injuries and Jason, 33, was pronounced dead at the local hospital.
Sherry was a lifelong resident of Huntingdon County who grew up in Mount Union; Jason grew up in Reedsville and remained in Mifflin County during his life.
Mifflin County District Attorney Christopher Torquato says Yetter being new to the case has its advantages.
“He’s bringing into this investigation a fresh set of eyes,” Torquato said.
Yetter is the fourth trooper to investigate the case and Torquato, who entered office in 2016, is the third district attorney; they say much work has been done over the past 14 years but stress that additional information is needed to move the investigation forward.
“As I’ve said to the family in the past and as I’ve said to the troopers involved, as far as I’m concerned, this is an ongoing open case,” Torquato said. “We ask that anybody who has any information, no matter how small it may be or how trivial it may seem, to come forward.”
Toquato continued: “Every little bit of information is important to the big picture. I believe that there is information out there. We need that person to come forward.”
Via Zoom, Yetter and DA Torquato met with over a dozen surviving family members a week ahead of the anniversary, to discuss the status of the investigation and to talk about what needs to happen to move the case forward.
During the conversation, Sheila Sunderland expressed her frustration with the passage of time without justice for her sister or Jason.
“This is a horrible, terrible tragedy and we have to live through it and live through it and live through it,” Sunderland said. “I don’t think the person who did this should be out living their life when so much has been taken away.”
Ashley Hoover, one of Sherry’s daughters, said that after 14 years, “it feels like there needs to be a different game plan” toward finding resolution. She also talked about life without her mom and its impact on her and her siblings.
“It’s sad we have to raise our children without their grandmother,” Hoover said.
Hoover and her sister Erin Fye, plus their children, recently spent the evening looking through binders compiled by their aunt Michele Huntsman for the purpose of collecting all materials relevant to the case. For 12-year-old Haylee Slep and 18-year-old Jocelyn Fye, it was their first time reviewing Huntsman’s efforts.
Eric Specht said as hard as it was losing his brother, he can’t imagine losing a child the way his parents and Sherry’s parents did.
“It takes a toll, especially this time of year,” he said. “The smallest thing, you never know where it might lead so if anybody knows anything, I just hope and pray they come forward.”
Another brother, Cory Specht who resides in Maryland, said he’s not sure there can truly be justice for Sherry and Jason, but wants something else for both families.
“Just give us peace, that would be my plea to anybody who knows anything,” he said. “There’s a sick individual out there who knows exactly how that night went down.”
Rebecca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.