New testimony heard in Ross homicide trial in wake of decision

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A Blair County assistant district attorney said Monday that nearly eight years ago Altoona defense attorney Thomas M. Dickey wanted to represent homicide suspect Paul Aaron Ross and that Dickey was allowed to enter the case at a late date because he said he was prepared to go to trial.

Dickey was questioning Assistant District Attorney Deanne Paul when she discussed what occurred at a meeting in a judge’s chambers as part of the pretrial proceedings in the Ross case. Dickey contested Paul’s version of events, stating that when he was permitted to take over the Ross case, he realized there was much more to do in preparing a defense for the suspect, who was facing the death penalty.

As the trial date approached in late October 2005, Dickey filed three petitions asking President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva for a continuance so he could better prepare the defense.

Kopriva rejected the requests, and Ross went on trial for killing 26-year-old Tina S. Miller of Hollidaysburg. The young woman was found dead at Canoe Creek State Park on the morning of June 27, 2004.

Ross was convicted of first-degree murder, and the jury recommended life in prison.

Monday’s hearing was a continuation of a proceeding that began in late April as Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio tried to show that Dickey was well-prepared when he entered the courtroom to defend Ross and that Ross should not be given a new trial based on Dickey’s claims that he was denied time to prepare his case.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ordered a new trial for Ross based on Kopriva’s rejection of Dickey’s continuance requests and based on improper information that was permitted into the trial about Ross’ treatment of former girlfriends.

Consiglio has asked the Supreme Court to review the Superior Court’s new trial order and has asked Kopriva to take the unusual step of reopening the testimony in the Ross case so he could provide more information showing Dickey was prepared to go to trial.

Dickey is protesting the judge’s decision to reopen the case.

Kopriva said after Monday’s testimony that a transcript will be prepared by early next week and sent to the Supreme Court.

It will be up to the state’s highest court to determine if the added information would be useful in determining if it should review the Superior Court decision.

During two days of hearings, Consiglio presented testimony from Dr. Lowell Levine, a bite mark specialist from Albany, N.Y., and a forensic pathologist, Dr. Eric Vey of Erie, who both testified for the defense in 2005.

Both experts indicated that they were prepared for the Ross trial, which, Consiglio contended, was contrary to what Dickey told the Superior Court.

But in cross-examining Vey on Monday, Dickey pointed out initially the assistant public defender who was representing Ross only discussed mitigating circumstances with Vey, which would be used as part of the death penalty phase of the case.

Dickey argued that Vey never was quizzed on other aspects of the case.

Ross claimed he is innocent of the Miller homicide and pointed out there was a white truck near Canoe Creek State Park at the time Ross maintained he left Miller there, Dickey said.

Dickey said he needed more time in 2005 before the trial to explore if Vey and other experts could paint a different picture about events during the early morning of June 27 than the one put forth to the jury by the prosecution.

Paul testified that Dickey and Ross’ prior attorney were given everything the prosecution had. She pointed out that the mysterious “white truck” had been investigated, but “there was nothing to it at all.”

Ross viewed proceedings Monday by way of videoconference from the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy.

Miller’s mother and stepfather attended the hearing in the Blair County Courthouse.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.