Counsel for Warriner Bass II, 65, formerly of Newburg, who is serving life in prison for two 1974 murders, recently filed a petition for compassionate release due to terminal illness. His family has submitted letters supporting his release, noting he has changed for the better while serving his sentences.
According to the April 24 petition, Bass has a form of terminal lung cancer, known as Stage 5 Metastatic Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the oropharynx: metastatic to lungs, and is likely to pass away within months.
Bass, then 20, eventually pleaded guilty to the brutal May 2, 1974, murders of Esther Singer, 50, and daughter, Vickie, 19. Their nude, mutilated bodies were found outside their isolated mobile home in Newburg.
According to the testimony of then Cumberland County Coroner Dr. Robert J. McConaghie, Esther, a factory worker in Shippensburg, died of a massive hemorrhage caused by a gunshot wound to the back. He said mutilation of the genital area had probably occurred after death, and there was evidence of sexual intercourse, News-Chronicle articles published at the time read.
According to McConaghie, Vickie, a senior at Shippensburg High School, was also found nude with an ice pick in her right breast. Her death was determined to be a gunshot wound, which caused destruction of the liver and hemorrhage of the lungs.
Her body was more seriously mutilated after death than her mother’s. There was no evidence of intercourse.
State police at the time believed Bass, who had just recently moved to Newburg after being discharged from the U.S. Marines, did not know the victims. They believe he had entered their trailer, and they surprised him when they returned home.
Bass pleaded guilty to the murders on Sept. 5, 1975, and was later given two life sentences for their deaths on Dec. 17, 1975. He has since been placed in a correctional facility in Virginia.
If released, he would be under house arrest at a home in Crewe, Virginia, and expected to receive in-home hospice care, the petition said.
“Given his terminal illness and lack of mobility, petitioner does not pose a risk of escape or danger to the community,” the petition states.
His mother, Mildred Bass, sister, Amy Bass Thornton, and brother, Mark Bass, wrote letters in request of compassionate release for Bass.
“I am asking for your mercy in considering my brother for an early release to his mother’s home, or a facility where he can spend whatever time he has left with his family,” Amy Bass wrote. “Our mother is 95 years old and no longer in the condition to visit him in the prison system, as she has done in past years. Further, it is among her strongest wishes to have time to spend with him in these final days of his life. By no means is anyone in our family suggesting that the sentence imposed on Warriner for his crime is unjust. He accepts responsibility for his sentence and has spent his time in prison being productive in improving himself and even helping others.”
Mark Bass wrote: “Warriner is a changed person from when he entered prison beyond the most pertinent fact of his illness. At the time of his crime, he was a young man who was using drugs on and off, and probably addicted to them, as well as having anger issues related to his marriage. I believe he was delusional. He is a much more mature person now and he has done his best to improve himself through educational and job opportunities whenever available.”
His brother noted Warriner has helped inmates acquire their GED; has led Bible studies; and assisted some financially. He added his brother’s growth in his Christian faith through the years as one of the reasons he has survived in prison and dealt with his illness.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Courtney Hair-LaRue will prosecute the case. She said this is a new experience fighting a petition for terminal illness, and is unfamiliar territory for the county in general.
“This is the first one we've gotten in this county that anyone can remember,” she said in a telephone interview Monday.
The hearing is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, before President Judge Edward Guido in Courtroom #3 at the Cumberland County Courthouse. Bass will appear via video conference. The Department of Corrections is also investigating.
Both the Department of Corrections and Hair-LaRue have requested medical records, but neither of the parties have received them yet.
The hearing was originally scheduled for earlier, but was pushed back to allow multiple members of the victims’ families to appear in person and testify.
“We felt it was important for the family members to be part of the process,” she said.
She noted Guido may make a decision July 23, or may take all evidence under advisement for a decision at a later date.