Attorney: Dismiss Piner charges

The defense attorney for Kenneth J. Piner of Altoona has asked that serious drug charges against the suspect be dismissed because they stemmed from improper statements by the prosecution in 2011 before a statewide grand jury.

Piner, 52, is scheduled to go on trial today before a Blair County jury in the courtroom of Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron.

He is charged with multiple drug offenses for alleged participation in a Baltimore-to-Altoona cocaine ring.

Piner in the past has not denied dealing in small amounts of cocaine, but does deny he was part of a “corrupt organization” and that he conspired to distribute thousands of grams of cocaine.

Altoona attorney R. Thomas Forr Jr. last Friday filed a petition with Milliron asking that the charges be dismissed due to prosecution statements that “inflamed” the statewide grand jury.

Many of the witnesses in the Piner case appeared before a statewide investigating grand jury.

Grand jury testimony is to remain sealed and normally becomes available to the defense only after the person who gave the testimony has appeared as a witness in open court, which would mean after the trial started.

In the Piner case, the grand jury testimony was given to Forr before the case began so that the Piner trial, which is expected to last three weeks, would not be delayed after each witness to allow the defense to review the grand jury testimony.

Forr is contending that Piner’s rights to an “impartial and unbiased” review of evidence by the grand jury was violated because of prosecution references to a 1990s murder in which Piner is a suspect, but for which he was never charged.

Throughout pretrial hearings, the prosecution has contended that while Piner was never arrested for the murder of police informant Lisa Snider of Claysburg RD, he used the suspicions against him to build street credibility that he was dangerous and that nobody should cross him.

The accusations of using the homicide to create street cred has been made against both Piner and his brother, Stephen, who is to be tried for drug crimes at a later date.

Forr contended in his petition the prosecution kept stating that “word on the street” linked Piner to the homicide. He said there was no real evidence of Ken Piner’s involvement.

The constant reference to murder “poisoned” the minds of the grand jurors “with rumors, speculations and conjectures…” Forr is arguing.

He has asked Milliron to dismiss the criminal complaint and grand jury presentment against Piner.

Forr in a second set of petitions also attacked information used by the prosecution to obtain court permission for phone taps and search warrants against Piner.

The judge will be required to resolve these questions raised by Forr before the case can begin.

Milliron has given the prosecution 10 days to present its case, even though Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman and the Assistant District Attorney Peter Weeks wanted more time.

The judge said his hope is to complete the trial in three weeks.