Judge rules Lancaster County man cannot take back his guilty plea for murder of girlfriend in 2012

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LANCASTER — A Lancaster County man serving 28 to 56 years in prison for killing his girlfriend in 2012 can not take back his guilty plea, a Lancaster County judge ruled this week.

Benjamin Klinger pleaded guilty in 2014 to third-degree murder in the killing of Samantha “Sammi” Heller. In exchange for his plea, he received his 28- to 56-year prison term.

Klinger admitted to driving his car more than 100 mph into a guardrail on Route 283 in Rapho Township in an attempt to kill Heller, who was his passenger. He then suffocated her on the roadside.

Lancaster County Judge Margaret Miller recently denied Klinger’s request to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial. Klinger argued that his attorney gave him bad advice and did not fully investigate potential defenses.

In her ruling denying the request, Miller wrote that there is no merit to Klinger’s claim.

“While the harsh reality of (Klinger’s) lengthy sentence may have finally set in,” Judge Miller wrote, “such reality fails to negate the fact that on August 29, 2014, (Klinger) stood before this court, fully versed in the facts of his case and the charges against him, and entered a knowing and voluntary plea of guilty.

“(Klinger’s) current displeasure with his sentence, or hindsight regret of his decisions, cannot change this.”

Assistant District Attorney Travis S. Anderson represents the Commonwealth for the appeal precedings.

At a hearing last year, Anderson called Klinger’s former attorney to testify of his interactions with Klinger.

The attorney testified he told Klinger it was Klinger’s decision to plead guilty; the attorney said he did not specifically advise Klinger to accept a plea offer.

The attorney explained the challenges Klinger would have faced at trial, including many Commonwealth witnesses who would have testified about the volatile nature of Klinger’s relationship with Heller, and Klinger’s prior threat to intentionally crash his car while she was a passenger.

Assistant District Attorney Christine L. Wilson prosecuted the case.