By Associated Press - Monday, August 11, 2014

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A man convicted of murdering his wife by pushing her off a cliff more than 20 years ago had his conviction overturned Monday by an appeals court, which said some evidence at his first trial should not have been allowed.

The three-judge panel ruled that the trial judge should not have let the jury hear hearsay testimony from friends and associates that Jody Scharf said she feared her husband, Stephen. Jody Scharf was in the process of divorcing her husband at the time of her death on Sept. 20, 1992.

Jody Scharf’s body was found at the bottom of a 120-foot cliff at Rockefeller Lookout in Palisades Park in Englewood Cliffs. Stephen Scharf told authorities that his wife accidentally fell from the cliffs after she had consumed alcohol.

Medical examiners initially concluded the cause of death could not be determined, but a re-examination of the case in 2004 yielded the conclusion that the cause was homicide, based on Jody Scharf’s injuries and where her body was found.

Stephen Scharf was arrested in 2008 and convicted three years later. He is serving a life sentence.

In Monday’s ruling, the appeals court faulted the trial judge for letting the jury hear testimony from several of Jody Scharf’s friends and her counselor.

“Scharf’s fears were not a motive for defendant to kill his wife, nor were they admissible to prove something about his state of mind and future conduct,” the judges wrote. “Contrary to the trial judge’s view, Scharf’s fear of defendant, even if based on their past history, simply does not make it more or less likely that, once having gone to the Englewood Cliffs with defendant, while she was under the influence of alcohol, an accident could not have occurred.”

A spokeswoman for the Bergen County prosecutor’s office, which argued the case before the appellate panel, did not return an email seeking comment Monday afternoon.

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