Saturday, August 1, 2009

Arrest made in 1991 death of camp counselor in Pa.

The Associated Press

A Virginia man has been charged with killing a camp counselor who was sexually assaulted and shot once in the head while on a hike in the Poconos 18 years ago, authorities said Friday.

Jeffrey J. Plishka, 46, of Onley, Va., was arrested in the 1991 murder of Laura Ronning, a 24-year-old from St. Petersburg, Fla., said Wayne County District Attorney Michael Lehutsky.

Ronning was working at Camp Cayuga near Honesdale when she disappeared on July 27, 1991, while taking a walk to Tanner's Falls, a nearby waterfall. Her partially clad body was discovered the next morning.

Authorities became suspicious of Plishka shortly after Ronning's body was found, but it was not until an interview earlier this year that investigators were confident enough to make an arrest, Lehutsky said.

During the interview, Plishka denied doing anything to Ronning, but twice told police, "I hope I didn't kill that girl," according to court documents. He also asked the investigators what he should do if he later remembered he had done something.

Plishka was charged with first-, second- and third-degree murder and attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and was being held in Accomack County Jail while awaiting extradition proceedings.

It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney. A phone message left Friday at a listing for an H. Plishka in Onley, Va., was not immediately returned.

Plishka made conflicting statements about his whereabouts on the day of Ronning's death, investigators said. He reported seeing her near the waterfall and participated in the search for her but could not explain a fresh scratch on his face.

Police searched his home and recovered a .22-caliber rifle and ammunition consistent with a casing found at the scene. The rifle had human blood on it, but DNA analysis was unable to provide a conclusive match to Ronning, according to court documents.

Lehutsky said he would wait to determine whether to seek the death penalty.

"Everyone involved in this investigation has tried their best to do the right thing at every step over the last 18 years," Lehutsky said. "That has sometimes meant waiting and sometimes meant moving forward. Those same considerations dictate that now is the right time to bring this case before the people of Wayne County so that they can finally pass judgment on it."

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