Imprisoned Murderer Excels, But Has She Changed? Diane Metzger Has Become An Acclaimed Poet And Scholar. Still, She Hasn't Been Able To Convince The State She Is Worthy Of A Cherished Reward - Her Freedom.

Posted: August 12, 1991

She is said to be the first woman inmate - not to mention the first female murderer - to earn a bachelor's degree from a Pennsylvania prison cell.

If any state prisoner offers proof of rehabilitation, say the admiring friends of Diane Hamill Metzger, the 42-year-old woman is such a prisoner.

Metzger's list of accomplishments during 15 years behind bars runs to three typed pages - a summary of her life since being sentenced to life without parole for the 1974 murder of her boyfriend's wife.

So impressive is the persistent, determined woman that one state representative has promised her a job upon release, and the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House calls her "the most memorable prisoner I met." In May he asked the state Board of Pardons to recommend her to the governor for clemency.

That seemed like a sure thing - the board had twice proposed her release only to have the governor refuse. But 12 days ago, after mulling over the case for two months, the board unexpectedly voted no - and, as is its policy, gave no reason.

In a telephone interview from state prison Friday night, Metzger said she couldn't comprehend the decision.

"Its kind of amazing, because the board recommended me twice, they had the same information. . . . I don't understand," she said.

Today, a frustrated Metzger remains in the state prison in Muncy, discouraged by the latest setback, said one longtime supporter, State Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.). In a telephone conversation since the vote, Josephs said Metzger called the decison puzzling because "she was the same person she was when she got recommended a few years back."

But new questions have been raised about exactly who Diane Metzger is.

"Just because someone gets a college degree, they can still have a

criminal mind," Attorney General Ernie Preate Jr., a Pardons Board member, said last week.

*

In August 1974, Diane Metzger was living on a farmhouse in Farnham, N.Y., outside Buffalo, with her lover, Frank Metzger.

They were former Delaware County residents who had met at work in 1968. In 1973, they had a marriage ceremony, and in February 1974, they had a son - even though Frank never divorced his first wife and the mother of his four children, Martha M. Metzger.

Only 19 years old when she met Frank, "Diane Metzger was a high school graduate swept off her feet by a man 12 years her senior," said J. Harvey Bell, a Corrections Department official who represented Metzger before the Pardons Board.

"They were bonded through their love. Frank's miseries became hers, and Frank had huge domestic problems."

Those problems were rooted in his troubled marriage to Martha Metzger, a Brookhaven resident who was raising the boys - then ages 10, 9, 7 and 4.

The couple often had bitter arguments when Frank visited the children, Bell said, and Martha had Frank arrested for non-support in 1973.

According to a synopsis of the case by the Delaware County District Attorney's Office, Frank and Diane, with their infant son, arrived at the Brookhaven home late on Aug. 18, 1974, supposedly "to talk to Martha . . . about getting (custody of) the children."

Instead, Martha Metzger ended up dead in her bedroom, suffocated with a washcloth forced down her throat. Her body was loaded into the trunk of a rental car and, with her four children in the back seat, Frank and Diane drove to the farmhouse in the small town of Farnham. There, Martha's body, wrapped in her bedclothes, was buried in a shallow grave.

NATIONWIDE SEARCH

The couple and their infant fled a month later, leaving the four boys alone in a motel. A nationwide search found Frank and Diane in Boise, Idaho, on July 11, 1975.

Frank would soon plead guilty to murder in Delaware County Court and be sentenced to life in prison. He is at the State Correctional Institution in Dallas.

Diane Metzger insists she didn't go into the home until the body was in the trunk of the car, and did not help plan the murder. Prosecutors contend she helped remove the body and helped plan the killing.

Preate is convinced by the prosecution's case, and said Metzger must apologize for her role before she gets his vote. "If you deny you've been a participant in a murder, how can you ever be rehabilitated?" Preate asked.

But on Friday, Metzger said, "They can contend anything they want to. . . . I wasn't in the house when Marty was killed."

Metzger was angry, eager to speak sometimes and reluctant to talk at other moments.

"I have a real problem talking about this because it still brings back the nightmare and brings back the horrors. No one can bring back Marty, but I don't know what's to be gained by . . . reliving it . . . this was supposed to be a clemency hearing, not a retrial."

She said the publicity hurts her parents, her son and "Marty's sons, wherever they are."

Since her sentencing in 1977, Metzger has achieved more scholastically behind bars than many people do in a lifetime of freedom.

"One of the more extraordinary applicants that I've interviewed," says J. Harvey Bell, her advocate before the Board of Pardons. Having earned one

college degree, Metzger is now working toward a master's in public administration.

SCHOLASTIC AWARD

She has a paralegal certification from Penn State. She was named ''Outstanding Adult Student in Higher Education" in 1989 by the Pennsylvania Association of Adult Continuing Education. She earned an associate's degree in business administration in 1980 and completed an electrician's training apprenticeship in 1986. She is a member of MENSA, the organization for people with high IQs.

She has earned eight prison education certificates in subjects ranging from sign language to word processing to technical photography.

Then, there's her poetry. In her seven-page application she lists 19 writing awards - mostly for poetry - and mostly in contests for prisoners.

In at least one instance, however, Metzger overstated her accomplishments. She claims to be the author of a song, "Sleep Now, My Baby," published in 1986 by Bourne Music Publishers in New York City.

But Bourne says Metzger only translated the Colombian folk tune from Spanish.

It is Metzger's drive and intelligence that have helped convince Delaware County District Attorney William H. Ryan Jr. it is "nonsense" to suggest Metzger was under Frank's influence.

"Probably," says Ryan, "she actually was the stronger of the two persons."

A 75-page memorandum submitted to the board attacks Metzger as someone ''who understands reality only as it supports her fantasies." The memorandum was submitted by the District Attorney's Office after Preate criticized its presentation at the May hearing.

ANGRY LETTERS

It includes letters she wrote to Frank from an Idaho jail while awaiting return to Pennsylvania. They were photocopied by prison officials for ''security" reasons and later given to the district attorney.

Excerpts portray an angry, bitter woman.

"I hate this lousy county and its rotten laws so much," she wrote on July 26, 1975. "They talk about rehabilitation. Well, I'll tell you, if you thought I felt hate and bitterness before, they haven't seen half of my hate and bitterness yet."

On July 24 she wrote, "We got a couple of new girls in here. One is okay, but the other is a damn goody-goody - so straight she makes me sick. . . . I think it's a big act."

Now, Ryan said, Metzger is "trying to manipulate the system . . . telling everyone how much education she's had and what an outstanding prisoner she is. So what? That doesn't change the fact she murdered the mother of four children."

Metzger denied Ryan's contention. "I've been his little political plum and football for years. . . . Let's face it, I'm a vote-getter."

She said the letters were the product of an emotional nightmare.

"I'm quite sure you've never been involved in anything quite as horrific and frightening," she said of the murder and flight.

"I was with a man 12 years older than myself, trying to keep it together. When I was arrested, I didn't even suspect I'd be arrested for murder. I went through hell in that little Idaho jail. Whatever I wrote, you've got to consider the state of mind."

'CRIME IS NOT THE FOCUS'

Janet Leban, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, agreed with Metzger's contention that "the crime is not the focus of the commutation process. . . . It is to exercise mercy, and that's based on what you've done in prison." Her organization gave Metzger its award for outstanding accomplishment in 1988.

State Rep. William DeWeese, the House majority leader, met Metzger in 1987 when he was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and in May told the board that while he is normally opposed to clemency, "I believe she has paid her dues."

Josephs, who has promised Metzger a job in her legislative office, said she's pondered Ryan's analysis, but trusts her own instincts. "My judgment is not infallible, but I think it's usually not bad."

If Metzger were capable of being the manipulative partner in a murder, "I don't believe it's true now," Josephs said. "I believe that people can change."

What attracted her to Metzger, she said, was "her intelligence, her sense of humor, her friendliness."

Preate doesn't rule out supporting clemency - in the future. "It's possible. I think she has to be a lot more truthful with people.

"I think a lot of people misjudge her," said Preate, whose review of the case has convinced him that Metzger is not telling the truth about her role in the murder.

"Anyone else who had access to the same data as we had may very well come to the same conclusion," he said.

But Metzger said, "I can't file in any different manner than I did.

. . . I can't give them any more than I have."

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