Neighbor petition targets burglar
A burglar will spend more time behind bars after outcry from an Altoona neighborhood’s residents scuttled a plea deal.
Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva this week sentenced Ronald Alfonz Blackmond, 20, to 2 1/2 to five years in prison for a home burglary spree in the summer of 2011 in the Hileman Heights neighborhood.
Hileman Heights is an eight-block area of tree-lined streets and well-kept homes where many residents have lived for decades,
Blair County Sheriff Mitchell A. Cooper, who has lived in Hileman Heights for more than 30 years, said the home invasions were “a great cause of alarm in the neighborhood.”
That alarm resulted in action after neighbors learned during a preliminary hearing of a planned plea deal for Blackmond that would have resulted in an 18- to 36-month jail sentence.
Hileman Heights resident Dottie Grabosky circulated a petition, signed by 81 people, asking the agreement be rejected.
The petition asked the court to “show Mr. Blackmond and other criminals that we will stand together against crime. We all live in a wonderful, safe, caring neighborhood. Let’s keep it that way,” the petition stated.
Other neighbors wrote letters, leading Judge Timothy M. Sullivan to reject the initial plea agreement.
On Monday, Blackmond, a Baltimore native who came to Altoona because of a relative and who lived at 2711 Fairway Drive, an apartment complex adjacent to Hileman Heights, entered an open plea and was sentenced to 2 to five years in prison.
In a letter to Blair County Judge Jolene G. Kopriva, former Altoona detective, now Blair Township Police Chief Roger A. White, called his neighborhood quiet, working class, family-oriented, safe and secure.
That sense of well-being was shaken dramatically as home after home was entered in 2011.
Blair County Assistant District Attorney Russell Montgomery said there were four burglaries during the monthlong spree: in the 2600 block of Pleasant Valley Boulevard, the 300 block of South 22nd Street, the 2400 block of Grant Avenue and the 2600 block of Quail Avenue.
Cooper said he knew one of the victims of the burglaries, and he said “that person was shaken quite a bit.”
A Lark Avenue woman sent a letter to the judge stating that the burglaries affected her is a “profound way,” She became “highly nervous” and “extremely fearful,” she said.
She said people in the once quiet neighborhood were terrified to be alone in their homes.
Another letter from a college instructor who lived in Hileman Heights stated, “My sense of safety and security in my neighborhood has radically changed since that summer.”
The burglar, while he left behind a great deal of damage and hard feelings, also left his fingerprints, and eventually investigators were able to arrest Blackmond.
Montgomery said Thursday, “I understand the neighbors’ feelings, definitely.”
He said that the original agreement was within the standard range of Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines.
But, he said, he thought it was a good thing that neighborhood residents would come to court and express their opinions.
Missy MacIntire of the Blair County Victim-Witness program said she thought the residents’ statements and letters were heard by the judge.
She said home invasions affect victims, their families and the community at large.
“Hopefully it will help,” MacIntire said as she discussed how the people spoke out. She noted victims often feel they are not heard.
One of the neighbors, Michelle Booth of South 22nd Street, said Thursday it was good to stand in court face-to-face with Blackmond and tell him how she felt.
Blackmond apologized to the neighbors, and he asked for their forgiveness.
She said no matter how much he apologized, she can’t forgive him.
She told Blackmond Monday, “You definitely burglarized the wrong neighborhood.”
Blackmond’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ted Krol, said Thursday he thought the original sentence of 18 months was appropriate for a first-time offender, and he was not happy the prosecution withdrew the initial agreement. But, he said there will be no appeal. The 2- to 5-year term is in the middle of the standard sentencing range, he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.