Homicide suspect pleads to assault

Kenneth Wayne Leighty of Altoona, who faces criminal homicide charges in Huntingdon County for the 1999 death of his daughter-in-law Sherry Leighty, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of aggravated assault against state police troopers who helped investigate the case.

The 66-year-old Leighty made a brief appearance Friday morning in the courtroom of Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle, where he entered his plea and was sentenced to 3 to 23 months in prison.

Leighty also faces criminal homicide charges in Huntingdon County for the killing of Sherry, his son’s wife, an incident police believed occurred on Sept. 22, 1999.

It was new information in the investigation of Sherry Leighty’s disappearance nearly 14 years ago that brought police to Kenneth Leighty’s Altoona home last April. During the questioning by troopers, Leighty, it was charged, fought with the troopers when they attempted to take him into custody for questioning.

While Leighty’s Blair County charges were disposed of Friday, the Huntingdon County homicide charge is still in its beginning stages.

Huntingdon County Distinct Attorney George Zanic said Friday that Leighty will be arraigned on the homicide charges in September before Huntingdon County Judge Stewart Kurtz.

If the prosecution intends to seek the death penalty, the decision must be announced at the arraignment.

Zanic said Friday he does not think the killing qualifies for the death penalty, but he said the decision has not been made yet.

He said Sherry Leighty’s remains are still being examined, and the prosecution is expecting expert reports that will pinpoint the cause of death and other factors that could sway the decision.

It was on April 19 that state police troopers Fred Chadwick and David Aiello went to Leighty’s Altoona home at 1225 19th Ave.

State police were assisting Altoona Police Detective Cpl. Matthew Starr, who was investigating a report that the body of Sherry Leighty, a 23-year-old mother of three when she disappeared, was buried in a 155-acre field in Huntingdon County.

According to the police affidavit of probable cause, police were questioning Kenneth Leighty about an inconsistency in his story that he had been at work the day Sherry disappeared.

Officers pointed out to him that workplace records showed he was not at work that day. He maintained the records were either wrong or police had looked at records from the wrong day.

He was then informed he was to be detained for investigative purposes, at which point, the affidavit stated, Leighty stood up from his living room couch and said, “You’re not [expletive] taking me away.”

Leighty, it was stated, then threw a shoulder block into one officer, knocking him back, and tried to run. He was subdued.

Police, meanwhile, continued to search the large plot of ground in Huntingdon County, and, with the help of Leighty, the remains were located on May 11.

Leighty reportedlyadmitted to the killing.

In his appearance before Doyle on Friday, Leighty was told he was pleading to one count of aggravated assault that encompassed his confrontation with both officers.

Leighty was represented by Blair County Assistant Public Defender Ed Ferguson.

He told Doyle he understood the charge against him.

Leighty had been scheduled to come before the court Tuesday to obtain bail on the Blair County charge. That hearing will no longer be necessary, Doyle informed employees of the court administrator’s office.

He has continued to be housed in the Blair County Prison despite the more serious charges in Huntingdon County.

Zanic said Huntingdon County has an agreement with Blair to house prisoners in the Blair County Prison because of overcrowding, noting Leighty could remain there for some time.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.