Zach Witman's socks after the murder of his brother Greg

A perplexing case of fratricide: the murder of Greg Witman

The murder of Greg Witman has been a case which has fascinated me ever since listening to the podcast Serial. While only mentioned in one episode by the presenter, it really struck me as being deeply upsetting and traumatic for the family. Why? Greg was thirteen at the time and his older brother Zach, who was fifteen, was prosecuted for his murder.

Let’s take a look at a simplified timeline:

  • On October 2, 1998, in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, Greg arrives home from school at 3:10 pm. Zach had remained at home that day because he felt unwell. Their parents were at work.
  • Greg’s friend calls the Witman home asking for him at 3:15 pm. Zach answers the phone upstairs and tells her that Greg had not yet come home, which he believed to be true. It was a short conversation.
  • Zach hears a thud and goes downstairs to find his brother in the laundry room with stab wounds to his back and neck. He calls 911 at 3:17 pm. He is ordered by police to move his brother’s body, and tells the operator that he can see inside his brother’s throat.
  • Emergency responders arrive at 3:25 pm, followed by police five minutes later.
  • Zach is charged with first-degree murder on October 10.

Here are some things that don’t add up:

1) Zach and Greg’s relationship

Zach and Greg

Friends and family of the two brothers claim that there was no animosity between them and that they were two of the closest brothers that they knew. Barry McCann, Greg’s best friend, said in his affidavit; “they loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company like brothers do. Growing up and even now, Zach is one of the most kind people I have ever met.” Just weeks before Greg’s death, Zach had set up a soccer goal-post for his brother. Ronald Witman, their father, said in his affidavit; “The relationship between my two sons was marked by an obvious love between them along with true comradeship and camaraderie.” Their parents have supported Zach and have lobbied for his release since his incarceration began. Zach truly seems to have no motive, making his conviction difficult to comprehend.

2) The knife and gloves

Zach’s socks

The knife that was used by the murderer to kill Greg and the gloves that they wore were buried beside the family’s hot tub in the back garden. However, there were no traces of grass to be found on Zach’s socks, and only a small amount of dirt, which would easily find its way onto his socks after he walked down his driveway when responders arrived. The knife that was used was a flimsy pen knife. Experts do not believe that it could have withstood the force which would have been required to kill Greg.

Blood that was found on Zach’s shirt was also minimal, and not consistent with the theory that he killed his brother. What goes against Zach is the fact that there was a cut on his right hand that lines up with a cut in the right glove. He claims he got the cut days previously at school.

The murder weapon

3) The short-time frame

The prosecution claims that between 3:10 pm and 3:17 pm Zach attacked his brother, stabbing him over 80 times, almost decapitating him in the downstairs laundry room, spoke to Erynn (Greg’s friend) on the upstairs phone at 3:15, and buried the murder weapon and gloves in the back yard, all before calling 911 at 3:17. Erynn provided a sworn statement and testimony that Zach sounded completely normal, and not out of breath or otherwise stressed. This just doesn’t not seem possible.

The prosecution argued that it was even more unbelievable that someone else would have been able to enter the house undetected by Zach, kill Greg without alerting Zach, bury the gloves and knife and leave the home, without being noticed by anybody, particularly school children who were on their way home from school at the time.

Zach was prosecuted in 2003 for the murder of his brother and has been incarcerated ever since. When offered a plea deal which would have given him a reduced sentence, he refused as he could not live with himself for admitting to killing his own brother. He has exhausted all his appeal options.

Zach in prison in 2009

This is a perplexing case, and one which can divide the opinions of those who discuss it. While I may not believe that Zach killed his brother, I do not believe that somebody else could have done it. To admit that Zach killed Greg leaves a gruesome reality for the Witman parents, who lost both their sons in in one day.

Leave your thoughts and theories on the case below.

More information on the case can be found at zachwitman.com

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