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30-year-old murder conviction in Wayne County set aside

Michael Conforti was one of two men convicted of murdering Kathleen Harbison in Wayne County in December of 1990.

WAYNE COUNTY, Pa. — A conviction that put a man on death row has now been set aside.

Michael Conforti was one of two men convicted of murdering Kathleen Harbison in Wayne County in December of 1990.

Now, after more than 30 years in prison and many appeals, Conforti has a chance to become a free man.

December 21, 1990, was the last time Kathleen Harbison, 22, was seen alive leaving a bar near Hamlin. One day later, her body was found nearly 15 miles away in a wooded area off Route 507 near Gouldsboro. She had been raped and stabbed 12 times.

Credit: WNEP

That same day, Michael Conforti and James Bellman were arrested and charged with Harbison's murder.

Both men were put on trial in September of 1991. Investigators in Wayne County said Conforti and Bellman kidnapped Harbison from the bar where they had met her and took her back to Conforti's trailer where she was raped. Then, Harbison was taken to the woods and murdered.

James Bellman was the key witness for the prosecution during Conforti's trial. Bellman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life behind bars. He later died by suicide while in prison.

Conforti was also convicted and was sentenced to death. He has been on death row in a state prison near Philadelphia.

Conforti has denied killing Kathleen Harbison. His lawyers have filed many appeals during the time he has been in prison.

The latest appeal happened last year in Wayne County court and concerned the evidence presented in the case.

Some of that evidence included Bellman's violent past and history of mental illness.

Defense attorneys said that the district attorney's office at the time violated the law by not making all the evidence available to the defense.

After that evidence hearing in November, Conforti's lawyers filed papers to have his convictions set aside.

On December 27, a judge granted that petition and vacated the conviction and sentence.

The state attorney general's office has now filed an appeal, asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the judge's ruling.

Conforti has been moved from state prison to the Wayne County jail and will remain there until the State Supreme Court makes a decision.

There's no indication when the court might have a ruling in this case.

Newswatch 16 left messages with the Pennsylvania attorney general's office and Conforti's lawyers, but we have not received a response.

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