Jury convicts Stoystown man in drug case
By JUDY D.J. ELLICH email@example.com
Aug 19, 2016
It took less than two hours for a jury to return a guilty verdict on three counts of drug-related offenses Thursday evening against a 35-year-old Stoystown man.
Michael Kozuch III and Desiree Fleegle, 29, Central City, were charged with drug offenses after an incident June 25, 2015, at a Stonycreek Township convenience store and diner.
According to court documents, Kozuch delivered six stamp bags of heroin under a trash can for Fleegle to obtain while she was working at Coalfield Two along Route 30.
Fleegle’s charges were dismissed by a county judge on July 12. She was on the defense’s witness list, but she did not testify.
Police said Kozuch went into the store and said something to Fleegle before entering the men’s restroom. Fleegle then paced around the restroom as though waiting, police said.
Store owner Jeffrey Miele told police that on several occasions he witnessed Fleegle enter the restroom after Kozuch was seen in the store.
On June 25, 2015, Miele entered the restroom after Kozuch left and found heroin under a trash can, according to police. When he confronted Fleegle, she fled the store.
A jury found Kozuch guilty of felony manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, intentional possession of a controlled substance by a person not registered and drug paraphernalia possession.
He is free on a $5,000 bond. His sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 31 before President Judge D. Gregory Geary, who presided over the one-day trial.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Carbonara presented the prosecution’s case and Somerset attorney Marc Valentine put on the defense.
Conemaugh Township man gets 4 to 8 years for soliciting teen
By JUDY D.J. ELLICH firstname.lastname@example.org
Nov 19, 2015
Carl Fisher, 57, of Conemaugh Township, had little to say when he was sentenced Thursday to four to eight years in prison on four felonies and a misdemeanor for soliciting sex from a 14-year-old boy on June 30, 2012.
At the sentencing hearing before Judge D. Gregory Geary, Fisher's attorney, Joseph Policicchio, requested a judgment of acquittal. The Somerset attorney claimed that the prosecution's evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction on any of the charges against Fisher.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Carbonara strongly disagreed. He said that the Somerset County District Attorney's Office had "reasonable inferences" that Fisher committed the crimes of which he was accused and that a jury appropriately found him guilty.
On Aug. 27 a jury found Fisher guilty of corruption of minors, solicitation to commit involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, solicitation to commit indecent assault, attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and attempted indecent assault. Several of the charges merged at sentencing.
Geary denied Policicchio's request. State criminal rules of procedure allow for such a request prior to sentencing "when the interests of justice require."
On Nov. 10, Geary denied Fisher's request for a new trial based on a similar argument: that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.
During Thursday's hearing, Carbonara asked for a Nov. 9 report by a representative of the state's Sexual Offender's Assessment Board to be included in the record, even though prosecutors decided not to pursue the recommendation by the representative, who claimed Fisher met the criteria of a sexually violent predator.
Policicchio objected to the introduction of the report in the record. Carbonara told the judge that the information from the report "is relevant" for sentencing, and the judge agreed.
The teenager told the court that "I don't want anyone else ever to have to go through what I went through."
His mother added, "He stole the innocence from my son." She said the "court has to send a message to Mr. Fisher that his behavior is not acceptable."
The teenager testified at the two-day trial that Fisher propositioned him while he was standing on the top step of Fisher’s porch. He was there to ask Fisher if he could mow more of his yard to earn extra money for a family vacation, he said.
Fisher said the boy misinterpreted what he said, which was intended as a moralizing story. Fisher concluded that it was the boy's way of reneging on a prior agreement and taking more of his money, according to his testimony.
The teenager testified that Fisher told him that he and a 14-year-old boy had sex and then asked him if he wanted to be a friend like that. The teen said no, jumped off the porch and went home. He told his mother, who called the police.
During the trial, Carbonara argued that Fisher was overly generous to the boy for a couple of years in order to set him up for a sexual encounter later.
Fisher's sister, Dorothy, of the Pittsburgh area, gave another picture of the man.
"Carl has always been kind to many of his neighbors," she said. "He does things for people all the time."
She called her brother "helpful and supportive."
Carbonara said Fisher's attitude toward authority was anything but helpful and respectful. He asked the judge to consider that during sentencing.
Geary said one of the reasons for his sentence was that Fisher showed no remorse. The sentence was also based on the probation department's presentence report, evidence from the trial, information in the sexual offenders assessment report, arguments by the prosecution and defense, and statements by the teen, his mother and Fisher's sister.
Geary allowed Fisher to be housed in the Somerset County Jail for the next 20 days until the deadline for a post-sentencing appeal.
Woman ordered to pay fine in drug case in which she called police
By JUDY D.J. ELLICH email@example.com
Apr 27, 2015
A woman who called and then flagged down Conemaugh Township police in the 500 block of Govier Lane on May 1 after two passengers in her car overdosed on heroin was ordered to pay court costs and a $200 fine at her sentencing Monday.
Jessica Ann Sharer, 34, Johnstown, pleaded guilty to a summary disorderly conduct charge Feb. 10 for her involvement in the case.
When police arrived at the crime scene, they spoke with Sharer, who was standing beside a vehicle.
She told police that the Jerome brothers — Kevin Allen Lowery and Kirk Joseph Lowery Jr., both in their early 20s — had injected heroin and fell unconscious, according to court documents.
Kevin Lowery was on the ground next to the driver’s side of the vehicle. He was unconscious and not breathing. Kirk Lowery was slumped over the steering wheel, police said. Sharer reached into the back seat, pulled out a red pouch and placed it on the trunk of the car for police to see. The pouch contained syringes, Q-tips, a cigarette wrapper with residue and six stamp bags of heroin marked “Seven of Hearts.”
Emergency medical personnel found a syringe behind Kevin Lowery’s right ear. It was uncapped and was dripping blood. Police found eight stamp bags of heroin in the center console.
Kirk Lowery had a plastic spoon on his lap. The brothers were taken to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown for treatment.
Prosecutors agreed to allow Sharer to plead guilty to a summary count because of the recently enacted Good Samaritan law regarding drug overdoses, Assistant District Attorney Michael Carbonara said at Sharer’s pleading.
“She probably saved their lives,” said her attorney, Daniel Lovette III of Johnstown, Monday.
Sharer was in drug treatment and counseling programs for several months. President Judge John M. Cascio said he was encouraged by her efforts.
“For the fact you were there, this could have ended more tragically,” he said.
Authorities linked the “Seven of Hearts” heroin to 12 overdoses in Somerset and Cambria counties last spring.
Jury finds Meyersdale man guilty of receiving stolen guns
By JUDY D.J. ELLICH firstname.lastname@example.org
Mar 27, 2015
It took a jury of four men and eight women 20 minutes to find a 48-year-old Meyersdale man guilty of two counts of receiving stolen property Friday.
Todd Short’s two-day trial covered his involvement in the sale of three stolen guns at Gander Mountain in Johnstown on Jan. 1, 2013. The guns were taken from two Somerset County homes on the same day in December.
Short, Olinger Street, testified in his own defense, telling the jury that he did not know the guns were stolen. Somerset attorney Marc Valentine presented the defense.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Carbonara prosecuted the case. He called nine witnesses, including three state troopers and the two couples whose homes were stripped of guns and televisions on Dec. 20, 2012.
A home along Belltown Road in Lincoln Township was broken into through the front door, according to court documents. A .44-caliber handgun and two televisions were taken. On the same day two 12-gauge shotguns, a television and electronic games were taken from a home along Plank Road in Quemahoning Township. The burglar broke into the home through a steel door.
Short pleaded guilty Sept. 24. He withdrew his guilty plea at the time of his sentencing Dec. 15. According to his attorney, Short had spent time considering the effects of a plea on his criminal record and the rest of his life. He weighed that against his claim that he did not know the guns were stolen. Short decided that he did not want to enter a guilty plea.
After Clerk of Courts Rose Svonavec read the verdict, Carbonara asked President Judge John M. Cascio to revoke Short’s bond and incarcerate him until sentencing. Valentine objected. The judge did not grant the prosecution’s request. Sentencing is scheduled for June 11.
Final DUI flub erased
By JUDY D.J. ELLICH email@example.com
Dec 26, 2014
The last case where a defendant may have been wrongly charged with drunken driving because of miscalculated blood alcohol content tests was dismissed in Somerset County Court of Common Pleas, according to District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser.
Michael A. Bachorz, 33, formerly of Windber and now residing in Clearfield, was accused by Somerset Borough police with driving while under the influence and related summaries. Police initially stopped Bachorz for driving with an expired registration along the 100 block of Plank Road on Feb. 9. After a blood alcohol content test was performed at Somerset Hospital that indicated a blood-alcohol level of 0.105 percent, he was charged.
The BAC level determines the severity of the penalties and fines imposed on a defendant for the driving while under the influence offense. The legal limit in Pennsylvania is 0.08 percent.
From June 1, 2010, until the problem was discovered by the district attorney's office this past summer, Somerset Hospital provided a protocol for blood alcohol content levels based on tests of blood serum without performing a conversion. That mathematical multiplier determines an equivalent of whole-blood BAC that is generally accepted in court. The level is always lower when using whole blood rather than blood serum, according to Lazzari-Strasiser.
Serum is acquired after a whole blood sample is centrifuged, separating the blood cells and the blood’s clotting agent from the plasma. When the blood serum is tested, the results show a blood alcohol content about 15 percent higher than a test performed on whole blood. Serum is denser causing the weight per volume of alcohol to be greater, according to court documents.
The conversion process, a mathematical multiplier, can be performed by the hospital, law enforcement or prosecutors. Because of an oversight, there was no protocol on which entity would perform the conversion, which is why it was not done, according to Lazzari-Strasiser. She took the blame for the problem, stating that it is the prosecution's responsibility to make sure the levels are correct.
The problem was discovered in August by Assistant District Attorney Michael Carbonara as he was preparing for a trial involving driving while under the influence.
Lazzari-Strasiser immediately reviewed 758 DUI cases in the court agenda dating back to June 1, 2010, to see if her office needed to re-evaluate them for possible amendments or dismissals. Within a week from the discovery of the oversight, she said she had narrowed the list of people down to six.
There were a few other cases where the BAC was changed because of the conversion process, but the lower percentage was not enough to change the 15 percent difference, she said.
"Mr. Bacherz is one of the margin of error cases, where the blood-alcohol level percentage once converted is below or uncomfortably close to the legal limit. It is not black and white. You can't rubber stamp," the district attorney said.
In the Bacherz case, Lazzari-Strasiser said she felt that after the mathematical conversion of the BAC, the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for DUI.
The other medical facilities that provide BAC testing for Somerset County — Windber Medical Center and Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown — perform whole blood testing.
Jury finds Rigo guilty in severe beating case
By JUDY D.J. ELLICH
Daily American Staff Writer
Aug 12, 2014
After 30 minutes of deliberation Tuesday afternoon, a jury of three men and nine women found Robert Lee Rigo Jr., 31, Stoystown, guilty of aggravated assault, a first-degree felony, and simple assault.
Following the jury verdict, President Judge John M. Cascio, who presided over the two-day trial, found Rigo guilty of the summary offense of harassment.
Rigo was accused by Conemaugh Township police of breaking nearly all the bones in David Kimmel’s face with what Rigo described from the stand Tuesday as “a left-right cross” during the aftermath of a party in a trailer along Lape Drive near Jerome on March 14.
The prosecution and defense were in agreement that Rigo and Kimmel were part of a small group that went barhopping and ended up drinking at Heather Blank’s home near Jerome. Rigo and his girlfriend, Anchilla Guthrie, began arguing early in the morning. Kimmel, who had brought Rigo and Guthrie to the party, told them to keep it down. That is where the accounts of what happened diverged.
Rigo, who was the only witness for the defense, testified Tuesday that he punched Kimmel, 43, a prison correctional officer for about 20 years, in the face in “fear of self-preservation.”
“It was a reflex,” he said.
He said Kimmel approached him from behind and took two swings at him before he responded in kind.
Rigo’s punches left Kimmel disoriented in a pool of blood, according to testimony at the trial.
He managed to get up, go outside, find his car and drive away. He started swerving, so he pulled into the parking lot of an assisted living home along Phillips Street in Jerome. People there brought him inside and called emergency medical services. He was taken to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.
Kimmel said Rigo struck him after he tried to play peacemaker. He said he was standing with his back to Rigo talking to Blank, who went to bed seconds before the attack.
Prosecution witness Frank Snyder, Kimmel’s childhood friend, said he went to two bars with Kimmel before going to Blank’s home. Everyone was getting along and having fun, he said, so news of the assault came as a surprise when he received a call the following morning.
“I didn’t see this coming at all,” he said.
Snyder left the trailer before Kimmel. The last thing he saw was Kimmel sitting at the kitchen table discussing breakfast with Blank, he testified.
Snyder said if he felt there was going to be any trouble, he never would have left. He described his longtime friend as someone who tries to resolve conflict.
“He is never the type of person to instigate it or egg it on,” he testified.
Defense attorney Sara Huston asked Snyder if it would surprise him to learn that Kimmel had intervened in an argument. Snyder said it would not.
Kimmel testified Monday that he has had to endure several reconstructive surgeries, including having his jaw wired shut for five weeks. He has another surgery planned.
“One bad decision affects two lives,” Kimmel said after the trial.
Rigo testified that he and Kimmel, who had met a few times, did not have problems with each other prior to March 14. In fact, it was Kimmel who called Rigo to join him and his friends that night after the group met his girlfriend, Guthrie, at a bar, both men testified. Both admitted they were intoxicated.
Rigo will be sentenced in November. He is in Somerset County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bond. Assistant District Attorney Michael Carbonara asked that the bond be increased. Huston asked for a reduction. Cascio decided not to change the bond.
“Justice was served,” Carbonara said after the verdict was read. “The jury heard the evidence and rendered a fair and just verdict.”
Huston does not comment on the outcome of her cases. Rigo’s family members did not want to comment.
Guthrie told police she did not hear or see the incident, according to court documents. She did not attend the trial.
Cairnbrook man to face arson charges in court
JUDY D.J. ELLICH Daily American Staff Writer
Jun 3, 2013
A former Cairnbrook man accused of starting two fires at the same location within weeks of each other will face arson charges in Somerset County court.
William Henry Ulderich, 38, waived his right to a preliminary hearing in both cases Monday before Senior District Judge Joseph Cannoni. Ulderich was not represented by an attorney.
Ulderich told the judge he will retain an attorney for county court proceedings. Assistant District Attorney Michael Carbonara signed off on the waiver.
State police said Ulderich set fire to his ex-girlfriend's residence along 4th Street in Cairnbrook at 4:45 a.m. May 7, 2012. Ulderich's girlfriend said the two were involved in an ongoing dispute over a child.
Ulderich is charged with arson, recklessly endangering another person and criminal mischief in that incident.
At 12:11 a.m. May 20, 2012, a second fire erupted at the 4th Street residence. Ulderich is charged with arson and criminal mischief in the second case.
Cannoni set Ulderich's bail at $10,000 in each case.
Ulderich was returned to the State Correctional Institution at Pine Grove in Indiana County to serveanother sentence there. He will be returned to Somerset County for his formal arraignment in the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas on June 29, according to court officials.