Court denies request to block retrial for Ross in murder case

The long battle by Blair County’s district attorney to block a retrial of Paul Aaron Ross, 41, for the 2004 murder of a Hollidaysburg woman appears at an end after a state Supreme Court decision.

The court has denied a request from DA Richard A. Consiglio to reconsider its decision upholding a Superior Court order granting the new trial.

Asked Tuesday if that meant the case was coming back to Blair County for a retrial, Consiglio said it did.

Consiglio said he would be seeking the death penalty for Ross.

In Ross’ original trial, the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder but recommended life behind bars rather than death primarily because of his dysfunctional childhood.

Altoona defense attorney Thomas M. Dickey said he’s not surprised by the renewed request for the death penalty, but, he said, this is the risk his client was willing to take to get a fair trial.

“Aaron Ross is aware of that,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

The battle over the Ross case began in May 2011, when a three-judge Superior Court panel ordered a new trial for Ross, who was sentenced in 2006 to life without parole for the murder of 26-year-old Tina S. Miller.

Her body was found partially submerged in the lake at Canoe Creek State Park on the morning of June 27, 2004.

Ross allegedly met the young woman at a Hollidaysburg pub and then went to an after-hours party where he again met up with her.

According to testimony in Ross’ trial, friends dropped off Miller and Ross at Canoe Creek State Park, which was near Ross’ home.

Ross maintained his innocence, the defense implying that Miller called someone while at the park who came to pick her up. Ross allegedly went home.

Dickey appealed Ross’ conviction to Superior Court, arguing he was denied time to prepare a proper defense and that a judge should not have allowed three former girlfriends of Ross to testify about his propensity for physical and sexual abuse.

The Superior Court panel cited both issues as reasons for the new trial.

Consiglio asked for and got a hearing before a nine-judge Superior Court panel, which upheld the decision to vacate the guilty verdicts, 5-4.

Consiglio then asked the Supreme Court to review the case. And earlier this year, he persuaded President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva to reopen the Ross case so the prosecution could present testimony showing that Dickey had time to prepare for the initial trial and told the judge he was prepared, even though he entered the case within weeks of its start.

Dickey argued that once he took over the case, he determined more time was needed so the defense’s expert witnesses had time to review the evidence.

The testimony in the reopened case was sent to the Supreme Court in March.

But in August, the court denied Consiglio’s appeal. The DA then filed a motion asking the court to reconsider, which was denied Oct. 17, according to appellate court records.

Although the Blair County court administrator, Janice Meadows, has not received notice of the latest ruling by the Supreme Court, she said retrials normally are held within 120 days.

Dickey said Tuesday afternoon “this shows again that the system works even in the very, very heinous offenses.

“It is the real bad cases that put the Constitution to the test. It gives you faith in the appeals process. … The [appellate] courts are saying, ‘Look! You have to give somebody time to prepare.'”

He said the testimony from the former girlfriends, known as “prior bad acts,” removes the cloak of innocence from a suspect, which is why, Dickey said, that issue alone was enough to warrant a new trial.

“I’m looking forward to trying this case on a fairer level,” said Dickey.

Consiglio said Tuesday he was ready for new trial, although he said he would have to reinterview several prosecution witnesses.