Judge tosses invasion charges
The prosecution’s case against three men accused of forcing their way into an Altoona apartment and assaulting a woman evaporated Wednesday after one of the residents took the stand and blamed the entire incident on the other alleged victim.
“This incident wouldn’t have happened if Jess [Hardin] just would have listened to me,” said Kayla Nina, explaining through testimony how Jessica Hardin had invited the men to Nina’s apartment against her wishes hours before Munajj L. Bishop, 21, Anthony L. Garner, 34, and Devin D. Smith, 30, all of Philadelphia, arrived at the home on the 100 block of East Maple Avenue Sunday afternoon.
Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker dismissed all charges, including conspiracy, burglary, false imprisonment, against Bishop, Garner and Smith after Nina took the stand at the men’s preliminary hearing at Central Court and contradicted the testimony of Hardin, 23, who was staying at the apartment.
The men had been held in the Blair County Prison since Sunday.
Hardin testified the men pushed in the door as Nina tried to shut it around 2 p.m. Sunday and then refused to leave. During the half-hour the men were in the apartment, Hardin claimed they held the women against their will and forced her to show them her genitalia before stealing $30, a cellphone and cigarettes from her purse.
“Jess invited them to basically anything in my house,” said Nina, who took the stand after Hardin and refuted nearly every accusation that was made to Altoona police on Sunday that resulted in the arrest and jailing of the men who were in Altoona soliciting door to door for an electricity supplier.
Earlier, defense attorney John Siford peppered Hardin with questions about the details of Sunday afternoon.
A tearful Hardin claimed not to remember certain details because of seizures she said occurred every 10 to 15 seconds, but she was certain they pushed the door in on Nina before one of them sat on Nina’s legs as she lay on the couch, covered by a blanket.
Nina said she was on the couch, trying to take a nap, and was told by Hardin the men forced their way into the apartment. Nina denied she was ever assaulted or held against her will and said her children had come and gone from the apartment during the alleged incident.
Although both women had met Smith on Friday when Nina agreed to switch electric suppliers after he visited her doorstep, Hardin denied having contact with Bishop and Garner before they arrived at the apartment on Sunday. Nina told the court Hardin invited Garner and the men to stop by and gave them Nina’s cellphone number so her boyfriend wouldn’t find out.
Nina also testified Hardin remarked Garner had pretty eyes, told him they would “make pretty babies” together and even took his picture with her cellphone. Nina said that Hardin then showed the picture to police, even though she claimed her phone was stolen. Nina noted Hardin claimed it was another cellphone of hers that was stolen, one that was in her purse, but Hardin testified she used her boyfriend’s phone to take the picture of Garner.
Nina, who left the apartment and returned during the alleged incident, said it was Hardin’s allegation that spurred her to call police, contradicting Hardin’s earlier testimony that Nina had called police after escaping the apartment.
“The only reason I called [police] was that Jess said she showed them her [genitalia],” Nina said.
As for Hardin exposing herself, Nina testified that Hardin and the men were talking tattoos and that Hardin said she had one near her genital area, prompting the men to ask her to show it to them. Nina claimed on the stand that the men told her to expose herself to them or they would steal everything in the apartment, including the children’s things.
When Siford asked Nina if Hardin showed them the tattoo, one of a black rose, after she left the apartment for a short time, Hardin replied, “I wouldn’t doubt it.”
Blair County Assistant District Attorney Russell Montgomery, clearly taken aback by Nina’s testimony, moved to dismiss all charges but argued a defiant trespass charges should still apply because Nina had asked the men to leave, a request that Auker rejected, he said, based on the testimony.
“Needless to say, it’s my experience over 30-some years the situations in these matters are never what they appear,” said Auker. “The testimony in this situation is not what was initially alleged.”
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.