HONESDALE, Pa. – A Virginia man accused of killing a camp counselor nearly two decades ago in northeastern Pennsylvania was acquitted Tuesday.
Jurors deliberated for about 3 1/2 hours before finding Jeffrey Plishka, 47, of Onley, Va., not guilty in the 1991 slaying of Laura Ronning in a remote part of Wayne County.
Plishka was released from custody after the verdict and left the courthouse with his father, Metropolitan Opera singer Paul Plishka, and stepmother.
Ronning, 24, of St. Petersburg, Fla., was a counselor at Camp Cayuga when she disappeared on July 27, 1991, while walking to Tanner's Falls, near Honesdale. Her body was discovered the next morning. She had been shot in the head. Plishka lived in the area and took part in the search for Ronning.
"The man is guilty," said Pat Gicking, the victim's mother, as she left the courtroom. "He killed my daughter and he's getting away with it, so we're going home."
The defense argued there wasn't enough evidence to convict Plishka and sought to shift blame to two unknown men seen flirting with the victim a few days earlier.
Defense attorney Lee Krause criticized the commonwealth's case, but District Attorney Michael Lehutsky said prosecutors had done their best.
"We had a case that was two decades old, and we tried to do what we could for her," Lehutsky said. "It was time someone made the attempt to stand up for Laura Ronning and her family."
Prosecutors said Plishka knew details of case not available to the public, that he made incriminating statements to police and that he confided certain details of the crime to a fellow inmate. But his father testified that statements Plishka made to police should be discounted because his son has severe learning disabilities.
"It was always very difficult for Jeffrey to express himself," his father said. "He couldn't tell time. I could never give Jeffrey multiple tasks."
Prosecutors said Plishka killed Ronning when she refused to talk to him, citing testimony that the defendant had told state police investigators around the time of his arrest that the victim "never waved to me." They said he also told them that he saw her reading a book at the falls moments before she was killed.