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Expert witness discusses Hitcho as a life sentence prisoner

By Laura Shingles, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: May 22 2012 01:03:44 PM CDT
Updated On: May 23 2012 03:25:51 PM CDT

EASTON, Pa. -

When Dr. Robert Johnson, Ph.D., an incarceration expert, described the noises, smells, and lack of privacy experienced in prison, George Hitcho Jr. nodded his head in agreement.

Johnson likened life in prison to the movie “Groundhog Day,” a film about living the same day over and over again.

As the jury prepares to decide whether Hitcho should receive life imprisonment without parole or the death penalty, Johnson took the stand to explain the two sentences.

According to him, life without parole is akin to the death penalty, though a more passive version.

“Lifers have ruined their lives and the lives of others,” he said in a presentation given to jurors Tuesday afternoon. “Lifers suffer a lifetime of regret.”

He also said that because of a loss of autonomy, prisoners serving life sentences “are reduced to spectators in their lives.” Much like Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day.”

But, according to Johnson, prisoners often make the most of their sentences. Many realize prison is the only home they’ll ever have and are therefore incentivized to keep it clean and safe.

Inmates also acknowledge that to participate in the work, activities and programs that offer some semblance of normal life, they must stay out of trouble.

As a result, lifers are among the best-behaved inmates.

Because Hitcho is considered an older inmate at 46, has a high school degree, has no previous incarcerations, and is nonviolent, Johnson believes he will make a “positive adjustment” to a life sentence.

According to Johnson, the severity of Hitcho’s offense has no bearing on his ability to become a good inmate. “Some of the worst offenders on the outside world adjust well to life in prison,” he said. But on cross-examination, Johnson said Hitcho could also adjust to life on death row.

Johnson testified that Hitcho said he is afraid of living in prison and is feeling anxious about his sentencing.

The jury is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.