Murder, Arson Trial Opens In Strangulation Slaying, Fire

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A prosecutor says a woman who was strangled to death in her Pennsylvania home before the structure was set afire almost two years ago was able to give authorities the proof they needed to identify her killer.

Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo told jurors Monday that DNA from Calvin Purdie Jr. was found under the fingernails of the one hand of Charlotte Chaplin that wasn't incinerated. Authorities also accuse him of setting the fire to try to cover up the May 2019 crime in Hershey.

“She scratched him on the face and on the arm, putting his DNA under her fingernails…marking the person who had killed her,” Chardo said in his opening argument. “She gave us the tools to achieve justice in this case.”

Chief Deputy Public Defender Paul Muller, however, told jurors to ignore what he called the prosecutor's “theatrics."

“We don’t know who murdered Charlotte. We don’t know who started the fire,” said Muller, who argues that police focused on 35-year-old Purdie from the start and gave only “cursory” scrutiny to other possible suspects.

Chardo, however, said two other men investigated during the slaying probe had verifiable alibis. He is seeking first-degree murder and arson convictions against Purdie, who authorities have said was living with 49-year-old Chaplin and dating her daughter at the time.