NOT GUILTY – Sex Assault

BEAVER — It took a Beaver County jury less than two hours Friday to find a man not guilty on charges he sexually assaulted a 3-year-old New Brighton girl six years ago.

Thomas H. Javens II, 33, whose last known address was 1621 Sampson St., Conway, was accused of inappropriately touching the girl, now 9, in her home. He was charged with aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault by New Brighton Area police in May 2012 after a forensic interviewer concluded the girl was making what they call a “positive disclosure” of sexual abuse, according to the police report.

After the interviewer’s ruling, police set up a telephone call using the mother to obtain a confession from Javens. His defense attorney, Steven Townshend, however, argued during this week’s trial that the apology Javens gave on the recording was for a recent argument involving the child, not past sexual contact.

Townshend argued it was an older child in the home who touched the girl, not Javens, and her mother was taking advantage of the situation to harm Javens, who she was fighting with over a custody issue involving another child.

Assistant District Attorney Frank Martocci argued the girl has always been consistent in her story about what happened and that Javens inappropriately touched her.

He also argued that the apology telephone call clearly was about the 2007 incident, not the more recent argument.

After the verdict was read, though, Martocci said, “I respect the jury’s decision.”

Inmate Jeffrey Cristina hopes juvenile lifer ruling will set him free

Convicted at 17, he has hearing set on his sentencing as a juvenile
April 7, 2013 12:04 am

Photo provided by Jeffrey Cristina’s niece
Jeffrey Cristina, who was found guilty of second-degree murder in 1976, in a recent photo.
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By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On June 29, 1976, Jeffrey Cristina was found guilty of second-degree murder and robbery.

He was 17 years old and faced a mandatory prison term of life without parole — even though the jury did not believe he killed the victim.

Since that time, Cristina, now 54, has remained incarcerated within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

He has not received a single misconduct write-up while in prison, and has taken advantage of just about every educational opportunity presented to him.

“Most of these kids that went in for life had no incentive to do anything because they figured they’d never get out,” said Cristina’s defense attorney, Steve Townsend. “What he’s done with his life for the last 37 years is pretty decent.

PG graphic: Juvenile lifers
(Click image for larger version)

“He’s taken every advantage he’s had inside to be rehabilitated. The system actually worked for him.”

It is that, Mr. Townsend said, that he thinks gives his client a good chance of someday getting out.

This week, Cristina will become the first person in Allegheny County to be resentenced based on last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, which made mandatory life without parole for juveniles unconstitutional.

According to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, there are 2,570 people serving life without parole who were convicted as juveniles across the United States. More than 25 percent are serving that sentence for felony murder (when a person is killed during the commission of another felony, such as robbery, for example) or accomplice liability, the organization says.

Pennsylvania has more juvenile lifers than any other state.

As of April 1, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, there were 462 such offenders imprisoned across the state.

Of those, 266 were convicted of first-degree murder — a premeditated killing. Another 157 were convicted of second-degree murder — or felony murder. A person can be convicted even if he or she did not actually commit the killing, but participated in the underlying crime.

Philadelphia has the largest number of juvenile lifers at 265, while Allegheny County has the second largest — 48.

Attorneys on both sides of the issue are awaiting a decision from the state Supreme Court in Pennsylvania v. Cunningham, which will determine if the Miller decision applies retroactively.

Those advocates arguing in favor of retroactivity say that juveniles cannot be held to the same societal standard as adults — that they are not emotionally mature, and that because of that, they fail to recognize the consequences of their actions.

But those on the opposite side say that making Miller retroactive, and applying it to defendants convicted years ago, is legally unsound and a violation of due process for the victims.

Further, they say, such a change in the law is unnecessary, since sentencing relief for those who have turned their lives around in prison already exists through clemency.

According to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, 40 people have been granted clemency on first- or second-degree murder convictions since 1979.

A hearing Friday

Jeffrey Cristina was uprooted from his home in Brookline after his parents divorced in the mid-1970s and he moved with his mother to Lawrenceville. One can click this to see how to go about a divorce legally. The divorce attorneys based in The Law Offices of David C. Hardaway are the best for divorce cases.

Although he had never been in trouble before, he fell in with the wrong crowd, said his niece, Heather Taylor.

On Dec. 10, 1975, Frank Slazinski, an 82-year-old retired steelworker, had just returned to his Butler Street apartment after being released from the hospital.

About 9 that night, officers found his door open, and Slazinski lying inside, badly beaten.

He died four days later.

During the investigation into Slazinski’s death, Cristina and others implicated gave varying statements to police. At trial, Cristina testified he attempted to rob the man but fled before the victim was beaten.

Still, he was found guilty of second-degree murder.

The Board of Pardons unanimously recommended Cristina for clemency in 1993, saying he had compiled a “stunning record,” although his bid was rejected.

After seemingly exhausting all of his appeals, Cristina filed a petition seeking collateral relief in August, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller.

Over the objections of the Allegheny County district attorney’s office, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani agreed to hear it, and the matter is scheduled for court on Friday.

At the hearing, Mr. Townsend will ask the judge to resentence his client, taking into consideration the decision that made mandatory life without parole for juveniles unconstitutional.

The defense attorney would love for his client to be sentenced to time served, which would allow for his immediate release, but a decision last month by the state Supreme Court could make that argument difficult.

The court, in a decision known as Batts, found that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller requires sentencing judges in Pennsylvania to set a minimum prison term for defendants convicted of first- or second-degree murder. It also requires those same judges keep the mandatory maximum sentence at life in prison.

That means that instead of possibly being released with time served, those defendants’ only hope to get out will be through the parole process.

The Batts decision, however, applies only to what amounts to a handful of cases in Pennsylvania that are currently on direct appeal, said Allegheny County chief deputy district attorney Dan Fitzsimmons.

The rest of the state’s juvenile lifers — about 450 — will have to wait for another case pending before the state Supreme Court, Pennsylvania v. Cunningham, to be decided.

That case, stemming from a second-degree murder conviction in Philadelphia, will determine if the Miller decision can be applied retroactively in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Townsend doesn’t see how the court could not make Miller retroactive.

“If [Miller] means it’s cruel and unusual punishment now, then it was cruel and unusual punishment in 1976,” he said. “The same standard has to apply.”

But Hugh Burns, the chief of the appellate unit in Philadelphia who argued the Cunningham case, disagrees.

His argument revolves around whether the Miller decision is a procedural or substantive change in the law.

According to Mr. Burns, the Miller decision lays out brand new procedures, and under Supreme Court precedent that means it cannot be made retroactive.

In issuing the Miller decision, the U.S. Supreme Court created a new process for the lower courts, requiring the sentencing judge to consider a juvenile’s age, level of maturity, family and home environment, the extent of participation in the crime, the impact of family and peer pressure and the possibility of rehabilitation before handing down punishment.

“This is a case that falls clearly in the procedural realm,” Mr. Burns said.

Further, he said, Miller does not categorically prohibit life without parole for juveniles — and instead only suggests it should be “uncommon.” Therefore, the prosecutor continued, it is not a substantive change in the law.

But Bradley Bridge, who represented Cunningham in the state Supreme Court, argues that because Miller struck down the only statutory sentence available for juveniles charged with second-degree murder — mandatory life without parole — then his client must instead be sentenced to the only constitutional option still available — the lesser included offense of first-degree robbery.

He further claims that juveniles convicted of second-degree murder cannot be classified as the most serious offenders deserving the most severe penalty under Miller.

“In Pennsylvania, second-degree [felony] murder is a legal fiction that allows convictions for murder absent a finding that the defendant killed or had the intent to kill,” Mr. Bridge wrote. “Instead, a felony murder conviction requires only the intent to commit or be an accomplice to the underlying felony.”

Mr. Bridge said Miller must be made retroactive because it created a “watershed rule of criminal procedure and thus calls into question the ‘fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.’ ”

Sara Jacobson, a law professor at Temple University who participated in a friend-of-the-court brief in the Batts case, said making Miller retroactive will not “open the prison gates to anyone.

“Basically, it opens the parole process,” she said. “That’s what Miller says needs to happen. It talks about a meaningful opportunity for parole.

“It sends a message to the now-adults serving these sentences there’s a possibility the worst thing you did in your life isn’t the sum of who you are.”

Emily Keller, a staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center, said Miller was another acknowledgment by the U.S. Supreme Court that juveniles should be treated differently.

“You read the social science — that adolescents are impulsive and subject to peer pressure and likely to outgrow it.

“It’s more than just academic research.”

Mr. Townsend agrees.

“At 16, you don’t even know what life’s about,” he said.

Mr. Bridge said that science shows that children don’t think the same way adults do.

“We all know children don’t engage in the same thought process that adults do,” he said. “They’re not just like little adults.”

But Mr. Burns does not buy it.

“Everybody knows that premeditated murder is wrong,” he said. “The line has to be drawn somewhere.”

As for the cases involving second-degree murder, Mr. Burns said that perhaps had those juveniles not participated, the crime would not have happened.

“Maybe I’m draconian, but I think the line should be drawn to try and protect people from being murdered.”

Staying hopeful

Cristina has been able to maintain a positive outlook despite 37 years in prison.

“I follow my faith pretty strongly,” he said. “You’ve got to have hope to keep going.”

The Miller decision renewed that. “It gave juvenile lifers a chance,” he said. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel we never had before.”

But for the victims of juvenile lifers, Miller had the opposite effect.

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, the president of the National Organization for Victims of Juvenile Lifers, said that what Miller did was reopen wounds.

The woman’s 25-year-old pregnant sister and her husband were killed in their suburban Chicago home in 1990.

After Ms. Bishop-Jenkins learned about the possibility of juvenile killers getting relief, she didn’t sleep for four months.

“There’s no such thing as closure or healing,” she said. “You go on as best you can.”

But when a defendant is sentenced to life without parole, she continued, “You do pretty much walk away saying ‘Thank God, that’s over.’ There is a legal finality.”

With the prospect that Miller could be applied retroactively — and possibly allow for the ultimate release of hundreds of convicted murderers — victims’ families are having to relive the past trauma, horror and anger they endured at trial, Ms. Bishop-Jenkins said.

As an advocate for victims’ rights, she said that it does appear that Pennsylvania has overly sentenced juveniles to life without parole, and she believes that is not an appropriate sentence for second-degree murder.

But, she continued, court precedent that could invalidate sentences duly handed down is not the answer.

Instead, Ms. Bishop-Jenkins continued, there is already another option available — clemency.

But for Cristina, a unanimous recommendation for clemency fell upon deaf ears.

Still, in all these years, he has remained hopeful.

Her uncle’s positive attitude has always resounded with Ms. Taylor, who was just an infant when he was first arrested.

“I don’t know how he was able to maintain that being incarcerated for so long — to not lose hope,” she said.

As she grew up, Ms. Taylor and her family visited Cristina every weekend while he was housed at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh. They exchanged letters and cards regularly. She continues to visit him often at SCI Somerset, where he is now.

“All I’ve been thinking about is getting out and being with my family,” Cristina said.

He recognizes the vast changes in the world since he was first incarcerated may be a difficult adjustment.

“It scares me, but I’m excited about it, too,” he said. “I have a good support system.”

Paula Reed Ward: or 412-263-2620.
First Published April 7, 2013 12:00 am

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Mr. Cristina will be the first to be resentenced since both the US Supreme Court and the PA Supreme Court held the sentencing scheme unconsittutional.

Interrogating Juveniles Without Recordings: Pressure Turns Friends Into Confessors

December 9, 2009 By admin Leave a Comment

By Cynthia Levy
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

In December 1975 when Frank Slazinski returned to his Lawrenceville home after a lengthy hospital stay caused by a beating he took from robbers, they struck again.

This time, the 82-year-old retiree was bludgeoned with a blackjack before his assailants took $15 and a television set, which was never recovered.

He managed to tell his daughter two kids were responsible, and flashed cops two fingers before he died four days later.

As weeks became months with no arrests, three Butler Street youths were among a handful of suspects. James “Red” Phillips, 19, a neighborhood bully, William Pirozzi, 17, whose mother worked at the restaurant where Mr. Slazinski regularly ate and knew he just got a new television, and Jeffrey Cristina, 17, the new kid on the block with a clean record.

By the time detectives filed charges against all three, they’d amassed a total of six confessions – some recorded, some not — riddled with contradictions and lies. Charges were dropped before trial against Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pirozzi entered a guilty plea for a three-year prison hitch.

Mr. Cristina, who maintained his innocence, was the only one to go to trial because his father would not let him plead guilty. Despite another series of confusing recantations, he was convicted as an adult and sentenced to life behind bars.

He remains confounded by his conviction and devastated his claims of innocence have escaped examination by appeals courts.

Killing for Nothing

The first to be arrested was Mr. Phillips. He was charged, passed a polygraph test – which is inadmissible in court—and was released seven days later after charges were dropped.

Mr. Cristina was brought in next. Officers taped the interview and his father was present. He said Mr. Phillips kidnapped him and Mr. Slazinski in a car and beat him during a 45 minute siege.

Court documents suggest Mr. Pirozzi partially corroborated his story, saying he tried to help Mr. Cristina get out of a car driven by Mr. Phillips.

The following day Mr. Cristina was questioned again, without his parents.

He abandoned the kidnapping story; instead stating on a tape machine he says was repeatedly turned on and off, he was standing outside the victim’s apartment with Mr. Pirozzi when Mr. Phillips told them he was going in to “collect some money.”

When he heard a crack inside the apartment, Mr. Cristina told police he saw Mr. Phillips beating the old man with a blackjack. Mr. Cristina led police to the hidden blackjack saying Mr. Pirozzi asked him to hide it after the beating.

Then Mr. Pirozzi changed his story too. He said Mr. Phillips kicked in the apartment door and went in, but wasn’t sure if Mr. Cristina did too.

The next day, both added another twist in their third statements to police, claiming they served as lookouts, but fled when the beating began. Both were charged with murder based on their admissions.

In the Shuman Detention Center, awaiting trial, Mr. Pirozzi offered police yet another version where he was clearly being led by investigators. This time he left Mr. Phillips out of the murder plot, and said Mr. Cristina was the killer.

Trial of Lies

Despite all of his previous statements, Mr. Pirozzi implicated Mr. Cristina in the killing. Prosecutors also used Mr. Cristina’s final statement in which he admitted being a look-out as a confession.

While Mr. Pirozzi pointed the finger at Mr. Cristina, he couldn’t keep straight how much money was taken and if Mr. Cristina possessed a blackjack.

After being drilled about the inconsistencies and replying “I don’t know” to more than a dozen questions asked by both attorneys, Mr. Pirozzi was asked which story was true.

“None of it is,” he said, sobbing.

After a break to regain his composure, he again implicated Mr. Cristina in the killing and insisted after all the lies, he was now being truthful.

Mr. Cristina took the stand and said after telling numerous lies, he finally wanted “to tell the truth.” Now he admitted attempting to rob Mr. Slazinski with Mr. Pirozzi, but said both fled after the elderly man beat Mr. Pirozzi with a cane.

Fifteen minutes later, he testified, he gave Mr. Pirozzi the black jack which was used in the killing. Days later, he said Mr. Pirozzi told him he and Mr. Phillips killed the elderly gentleman.

Mr. Cristina was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

In June, Mr. Pirozzi told Innocence Institute reporters he faced such pressure during interrogation he’s blocked out the memories and wishes to be hypnotized to figure out what really happened.

Mr. Pirozzi did remember certain elements of the case when specific instances were broached, even though he said he was drunk and on medication during his initial interrogation.

Today, he doesn’t remember lying under oath (and admitting it), nor does he recall penning a letter to Mr. Cristina’s brother while awaiting trial where he wrote that since he was in Carrick with his girlfriend the night of the murder, that he, “don’t know if Jeff was there that night.”

“I was brainwashed,” said Pirozzi about his lack of recall during what he said were “long, long hours” of questioning.

Post-trial Discoveries

As Mr. Cristina was shipped to prison, information about Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pirozzi began to emerge.

A woman told police Mr. Pirozzi implicated Mr. Cristina because Mr. Phillips threatened to kill a family member. She also said Mr. Phillips threatened her after she visited Mr. Pirozzi in jail.

During his pre-sentence investigation, Mr. Pirozzi confessed again to an Allegheny County psychologist, this time his story matched much of what Mr. Cristina said on the witness stand.

Mr. Pirozzi told the psychologist he borrowed the blackjack from Mr. Cristina, to commit the robbery with Mr. Phillips. He told the counselor Mr. Cristina declined participation. He said after the robbery, they left Mr. Slazinski unharmed, but Mr. Phillips returned and beat him to death.

Afterwards, Mr. Pirozzi told the psychologist Mr. Phillips threatened him and told him to blame the crime on Mr. Cristina.

In a later letter to Mr. Cristina’s sentencing judge, the psychologist, Jay Greenfield, said the case “left a great weight on him” and he worried Mr. Cristina got a “bum rap.”

Dr. Greenfield also revealed in pre-sentencing reports both teenagers repeatedly failed lie detector tests stating, they “blew the machine up.”

In October 1989 after 13 years in prison, Mr. Cristina filed for and was unanimously approved for commutation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Board of Pardons; but former Gov. Tom Ridge denied it.

Mr. Cristina’s appeals are exhausted and without extraordinary judicial relief, he will never be freed.

“I was brought up believing that the justice system was correct and true, so during my trial and everything leading up to it, I always thought everything would work out and that they would find the truth. That didn’t happen,” said Mr. Cristina.


Doctor Not Guilty of Prescribing Medication

Doctor found not guilty of illegally prescribing medication

A doctor who was charged with illegally prescribing medication to a staff member out of an East Liberty women’s clinic was found not guilty on all counts Wednesday.

John P. Barrett, 42, of Mt. Lebanon was charged in March with three counts, including selling a controlled substance, illegally dispensing and illegally administering a controlled substance.

According to the criminal complaint, the Allegheny Women’s Center, at 121 N. Highland Ave., which has since closed, was receiving large quantities of Diethylpropion, an obesity medication. There were approximately 20,000 pills unaccounted for over a four-year period from the clinic.

Investigators said they found the medicine was being used by Mark Wagner, a lab tech, who took it to treat anxiety and depression.

But prosecutors said Mr. Wagner was not a patient of Dr. Barrett, the clinic’s director, or Dr. Alton Lawson, and that the man’s psychiatrist was not aware he was taking the medication.

In July, Dr. Lawson pleaded guilty to two count of sale of a controlled substance and entered the court’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, which will clear his record after nine month of successful probation.

Mr. Wagner pleaded guilty in May to five misdemeanor counts and was sentenced to five years probation. He told investigators that he used the drug but also sold it to a friend to help her lose weight.

Dr. Barrett had a nonjury trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani on Wednesday.

Defense attorney Steven C. Townsend called no witnesses, but argued to the court that even though his client’s DEA number was used to order medications for the clinic, that did not mean he was aware Mr. Wagner was using it, abusing it or not an actual patient of Dr. Lawson.

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Corporate America: Buying their way out of jail again??

There were a lot of people who cooperate(d) and will likely not ever engage in this type of conduct, but really?  Another corporate entity, including it’s executives, are buying there way out of jail. 


United States Announces $15 Million Penalty and Non-Prosecution Agreement with Krones


November 8, 2012


PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Krones Aktiengesellschaft, a company based in Neutraubling, Germany, and its American subsidiary, Krones, Inc., of Franklin, Wisconsin (hereinafter collectively Krones), have entered into a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, which resolves allegations arising from Krones’ involvement in the fraudulent scheme perpetrated by Gregory Podlucky and others, which resulted in the failure in 2006 of Le-Nature’s Inc., U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.

Under the terms of the NPA Krones will pay a $15 million monetary penalty to the United States. In addition, Krones will pay restitution to entities the U.S. Attorney’s Office asserts suffered losses as a result of Krones conduct with Le-Natures.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, during 2004-2006, Krones cooperated with Gregory Podlucky and Le-Nature’s in deceiving lenders over the cost of bottling equipment being manufactured for use at Le-Nature’s plants. Lenders financing the equipment were told cost amounts by Podlucky, confirmed by Krones, approximately twice as much as the actual cost. Krones then received the excessive payments as the manufacturing process progressed, kept funds to cover the equipment, and forwarded the additional approximately $118 million to Le-Nature’s.

U.S. Attorney Hickton said, “Fifteen million dollars is the largest financial penalty ever imposed in this District. We entered into this agreement with Krones because we are satisfied the penalty is of a magnitude adequate to deter Krones from becoming an instrument of a criminal scheme in the future, as well as to deter others from transacting business by deceitful means. Also entering into the balance in making this agreement was Krones’ cooperation with our investigation, and its own internal management changes which we believe help make unlikely any similar conduct by the company in the future.

“In addition to the penalty to be paid to the United States, as a condition precedent to the NPA, Krones has resolved civil litigation arising from the same transactions, and will make payments which essentially provide for the victims of the scheme to recover restitution for their losses. In total, the cost to Krones for its conduct will be approximately $125 million.

“The financial marketplace operates on a bedrock principle of good faith. Those who do not meet that standard should understand the United States will hold them to account.

“I want to acknowledge the skill and diligence of the investigators from the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service/Criminal Investigation, whose efforts over several years have served the public interest so well, and enabled us to achieve this significant result today, as well as in previous prosecutions related to the Le-Nature’s scandal.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Y. Garrett and Robert S. Cessar are handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Governor Corbett Signs Justice Reinvestment; Other Law Enforcement Bills

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 25, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Governor Tom Corbett today signed House Bill 135, the second phase of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative that will redirect funds from corrections to communities.

Corbett also signed into law several other pieces of legislation, all related to Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system.

“These reforms are all part of a philosophy that says justice, in order to work, must be administered with firmness, compassion and common sense,” Corbett said. “We need to be smarter, more adaptable and more determined to solve crime and prevent crime.”

Accompanied by Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, several members of the General Assembly and others who sponsored or advocated for the legislation, Corbett signed the bills into law today at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Wetzel, along with the lawmakers, Sens. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Bucks), Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester), Daylin Leach (D-Delaware), as well as Reps. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), Thomas Caltagierone (D-Berks) and Glen Grell (R-Cumberland), were all outspoken advocates of Justice Reinvestment.

In January, Corbett established a working group, including cabinet members, lawmakers from all four legislative caucuses and local criminal justice leaders. With support from the Council of State Governments, the Pew Center on the States and the Department of Justice, the group studied Pennsylvania’s current judicial system and recommended ways to make it more efficient and effective.

Once implemented, funds generated from savings in the state prison system can then be redirected back to local communities to be used for law enforcement, probation, parole and victims’ services.

Also attending today’s event with the governor were cadets from the 102nd class of HACC’s Municipal Police Academy. Graduates of the academy earn certification to work for Pennsylvania’s municipal police departments.

In addition to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, Corbett also signed the following legislative bills that passed this term:

House Bill 815 – This legislation amends the crimes code to broaden penalties, further providing for the prosecution of the sexual abuse of children and providing for the offense of transmission of sexually explicit images by a minor, also known as sexting.

House Bill 898 – Restores a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for those convicted of making repeat straw purchases of firearms. Earlier this year in Montgomery County, Plymouth Township Police Officer Brad Fox was shot and killed by a man who purchased an illegally acquired gun.

House Bill 1121 – Provides sentencing enhancements for crimes of violence or drug dealing committed in association with a criminal gang.

House Bill 2400 – This updates Pennsylvania’s wiretap law, to reflect new technology and further provide for definitions of the law, as well as the possession, sale, and distribution of devices.

Senate Bill 86 – Updates the Motor Vehicle Code’s chop shop language, offering a broader definition to include vehicles, trailers and semitrailers, as well as outlining specific guidelines for inspection and searches of garages and repair shops.

House Bill 1794 – Act providing for HIV-related testing for certain sex offenders. This brings Pennsylvania into compliance with the Violence Against Women Act, allowing for the testing of certain sexual offenders within 48 hours after criminal information is filed. 

House Bill 235 – This legislation provides for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline Notification Act; imposing duties on the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to develop a response plan to help victims.

Senate Bill 850 – Provides sentencing exceptions for minors convicted of murder, providing options for judges rather than the mandatory life in prison; expungement for certain juvenile offenders, sentencing enhancements for murder of a child under the age of 13 and provides the victim advocate with the authority to advocate for victims of juvenile crimes. 

Senate Bill 941–Increases fines for public drunkenness and underage drinking. The bill also makes it a summary offense if a person less than 21 years, attempts to purchase, purchases, consumes, possesses or knowingly and intentionally transports alcoholic beverages. Currently a summary offense carries a fine of not more than $300 unless otherwise provided and this legislation increases it to $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for second and subsequent offenses.

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Several Charges Dismissed Against Azul Restaurant Owner

Preliminary hearings are held at District Magistrate Robert Ford’s office in Leetsdale. 

A single simple assault charge was held for court Tuesday in the case of a Leetsdale restaurant owner accused of punching a former employee in the face and grabbing his neck.

Two counts of aggravated assault and a charge of reckless endangerment were withdrawn against Angus K. Peterkin, 55, of Buhlmont Drive prior to the preliminary hearing in Leetsdale District Court.

Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Robert Heister amended the charges filed Oct. 1 to a single count of simple assault. Peterkin also faced one count of providing false reports to law enforcement, but Judge Robert Ford later dismissed that charge.

According to a criminal complaint, Peterkin, owner of Azul Bar y Cantina, fired Richard Grabowski on Sept. 12 and told him not to return after they argued inside the restaurant.

Grabowski, 20, testified Tuesday that he returned to the neighborhood the following night to visit a friend at Marroni’s Lounge about a block from Azul’s. Grabowski said he didn’t find his friend at the bar, so he stopped by the employee parking lot across the street from Azul’s to write a note to leave on another friend’s car.

He stopped back at Marroni’s once more, before Grabowski said he started walking back to his car parked on Broad Street. That’s when he said Peterkin walked up and attacked him on the public sidewalk.

Grabowski testified that Peterkin began shouting at him before he punched him in the face and side of head, leaving a ringing noise in his left ear. He said Peterkin never gave a reason for striking him, except to say, “I told you never to be here again,” Grabowski testified.

According to the criminal complaint, Peterkin asked a passerby to call police because Grabowski was trespassing on his property. The passerby then warned Grabowski to leave the area. 

Peterkin’s attorney, Steven Townsend of Pittsburgh said his client had a right to defend his property and that Grabowski’s testimony of where the altercation occurred was inconsistent with the police report, which states that Peterkin confronted Grabowski in his employee parking lot.

Heister said the circumstances do not fall under the new Castle Doctrine law in Pennsylvania—a law which expands a homeowner’s right to use lethal force a protectionl He argued that many of Townsend’s questions were beyond the scope of the preliminary hearing and irrelevant.

Townsend disagreed. “He’s the one who’s given the statement to police that’s completely inconsistent to what he’s testified to,” Townsend said.

Grabowski testified that he was evaluated by paramedics at the police station afterward and was said to be fine.

Leetsdale police Sgt. William Dreyer said the investigation led to a charge of false reports against Peterkin because he gave differing oral and written statements. Dreyer said Peterkin altered his story in a written statement to say he was walking employees out of work when he saw Grabowski, although in his earlier account to police he said he instructed a waitress to keep everyone inside the restaurant and took matters into his own hands, he said.

Townsend called for the judge to dismiss the case against Peterkin, who appeared in court, but did not testify. The false reports charge was dismissed, and the simple assault charge held for court.

After the hearing, Townsend reiterated that it was Grabowski who changed his story from what he initially told police.

“That’s what happens when you tell lies,” Townsend said. “You can’t keep it straight.”  

Federal Drug Conviction Overturned due to the govt’s “impermissible speculation.”

We readily conclude that the district court erred, in part, when it denied Hickman’s motion for judgment of acquittal as to the one-kilogram conspiracy charged in the indictment.  The Government’s strained attempt, through extrapolations testified to by a drug enforcement agent, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the charged conspiracy involved at least one kilogram of heroin relies on impermissible speculation and cannot be sustained. For anyone addicted to the consumption of drugs, they can contact drug rehab and find a permanent solution to their addiction.

Kevin Hickman after Muse Treatment was charged in two of the 11 counts in a superseding indictment, namely (1) conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin (Count I) and (2) possession of heroin with intent to distribute (Count VI), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1). Alone among the eight defendants, Hickman proceeded to trial. The jury convicted Hickman on both counts and, pursuant to the Government’s notice of enhanced punishment, the district court imposed a mandatory life sentence on the conspiracy count and a concurrent sen- tence of 360 months of imprisonment on the possession with intent to distribute count. In this timely appeal, Hickman principally contends that the Government failed to offer sufficient evidence to support his conspiracy conviction and therefore the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on that count.

Pennsylvania Politics Continues To Trump Health And The Environment

By  The Public Record Jul 6th, 2012

Politics continues to threaten the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians.

The latest is how the Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett separated one of the wealthiest and more high-tech/industrial areas of the state from the rural areas.

Less than a week before the 2011–2012 fiscal year budget was scheduled to expire, June 30, the majority party slipped an amendment into the 2012–2013 proposed budget, (SB1263), to ban natural gas drilling in a portion of southeastern Pennsylvania for up to six years. The South Newark Basin includes portions of Bucks, Montgomery, and Berks counties, and could provide at least 360 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to estimates by the United States Geologic Survey.

Only an e-mail blast by anti-fracking activist Iris Marie Bloom and a short AP story the day before the budget was passed alerted Pennsylvanians to the amendment that gives special consideration to the suburban areas of Philadelphia.

High volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process that injects under heavy pressure as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, gases, and chemicals, many of them known carcinogens, into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels. However, numerous studies have concluded that the process of fracking to extract natural gas poses significant problems to the health of citizens and their environment.

In his first budget address, Corbett declared he wanted to “make Pennsylvania the hub of this [drilling] boom. Just as the oil companies decided to headquarter in one of a dozen states with oil, let’s make Penn­syl­va­nia the Texas of the nat­ural gas boom.”

The push by Corbett and the Republicans in the Legislature that led to the enactment of the highly-controversial Act 13 to open gas drilling was possibly not only because they favor corporate development but because it was also payback for extensive campaign contributions by the natural gas industry. Corbett had taken more than $1.6 million in contributions from persons and PACs associated with the natural gas industry, according to data compiled by Common Cause.

Rep. Brian L. Ellis (R-Butler County, Pa.), sponsor of the House bill, received $23,300. Sen. Joseph B. Scarnati (R- Warren, Pa.), the senate president pro-tempore who sponsored the companion Senate bill (SB 1100), received $293,334, according to Marcellus Money. Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana, Pa.), chair of the majority policy committee, received $105,732; Rep. Mike Turzai (R-McCandless, Pa.), majority floor leader, received $79,100. Of the 20 Pennsylvania legislators who received the most money from the industry in the past decade, 16 are Republicans, according to Common Cause.

The Republican legislators who enthusiastically supported Act 13 but then created an amendment to exempt a part of the state, claim the amendment was needed to give time to better study the effects of fracking. “We basically said we didn’t know [the South Newark Basin] was there before when we did Act 13,” said State Sen. Charles T. McIhnnerey(R- Doylestown), sponsor of the amendment. However, the presence of natural gas in southeastern Pennsylvania wasn’t exactly a secret; energy companies had been active for several years in the region. McIhnnerey, “We need to slow this down until we can do a study on it—see what’s there, see where it is, see how deep it is, study the impact, get the local supervisor’s [sic] thoughts on it.”

“Where was our study?” demanded State Rep. Jesse White (D-Washington County), who actively opposes Act 13 and has been trying to get responsibility on the part of the Industry and the state Legislature regarding drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales. “We were here four months ago [when Act 13 was passed] under the guise of, we had to have uniformity, we had to have consistency, we needed to be fair,” said Rep. White, “and now, four months later, we’re saying, ‘Maybe, for whatever reason, we’re going to give a few people a pass.’”

Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth, and one of the state’s more active opponents of fracking, says, “Studies are not being conducted before drilling begins anywhere else in the state . . . nor are studies being conducted on the potential impacts of the pipeline operations already coming here [to Berks County].”

David Meiser, chair of the Bucks County Sierra Club, said the Legislature “should either exempt all counties from Act 13 and not just try to get special treatment from Sen. McIlhinney’s core area, or repeal the law entirely.”

Sen. McIhnnerey proudly noted the last-minute legislation “makes good on my promise that Act 13 was not intended to apply to Bucks County.”

By his own words, it is time for the Republican majority, so willing to expose rural Pennsylvania to the effects of fracking, to now honestly answer two significant questions.

The first question to the Republicans is, “Why do you support a state law that discriminates against the rural counties, while you support a special exemption that protects the health and welfare of the urban and suburban counties that have many of the state’s most powerful and wealthiest constituents, including the head of the Department of Environmental Protection and the lieutenant governor?”

The second question is, simply, “How much more money will it take to continue to buy your loyalty to corporations, the powerful, and the affluent?”

Walter Brasch, recipient of the Pennsylvania Press Club’s lifetime achievement award, is a syndicated columnist, author of 17 books, former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and professor emeritus of mass communications. His current book is the critically acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which discusses health and welfare issues in energy exploration. His next book is about health, environment, and political corruption associated with the natural gas industry.