Padilla’s appeal rejected

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has rejected a defense request to reargue an appeal for the death penalty for an Altoona man, Miguel A. Padilla, who is awaiting execution at the State Correctional Institution at Greene.

The state’s highest court in late October upheld Padilla’s first- degree murder convictions and death penalties imposed by now-retired Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter for the murders of three men at the United Veterans Association Club on Aug. 28, 2005.

While the Supreme Court concluded the evidence that the 33-year-old Padilla killed the three men in a shooting spree following an argument at the after-hours club was “unquestionably sufficient” to establish his guilt, the imposition of the death penalty caused controversy among the justices because of a stipulation by Padilla’s death penalty attorney that admitted he had committed the killings “while in the perpetration of a felony of a person not to possess or use a firearm.”

The prosecution contended Padilla illegally possessed a gun because he, as a native of Mexico, was an illegal immigrant.

But Padilla’s attorney, the late Ed Blanarik of Centre County, wanted to keep that information from the jury, according to the Supreme Court review of the case, and agreed to the stipulation.

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille stated in his opinion that the defense “apparently at all costs” did not want the jury to learn of Padilla’s immigration status.

Padilla had come to America as a young child with his mother and was raised with several siblings in Gallitzin.

The out-of-county jury from Cumberland County found the gun issue one of four aggravating circumstances that served as the underpinning of the death sentences.

At least one of the justices, Max Baer, suggested the case be sent back to Blair for a new sentencing hearing because, as he pointed out in a separate opinion, the possession of a fireman by an illegal immigrant was a misdemeanor, not a felony, and therefore was an “invalid aggravating circumstance.”

Despite the controversy, the death sentence was upheld, and that led to a defense request, filed with the Supreme Court on Nov. 12, to reargue the question.

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio opposed reargument.

He contended that not only will Padilla and his defense team have the opportunity to raise their complaints during the post-conviction proceedings – the next step in the case – but also emphasized that the gun charge should stand because Padilla used the illegal weapon to commit several felonies: the murders of Alfred Mignogna, the owner of the UVA; Frederick Rickabaugh, a club employee, and Stephen Heiss, a patron.

He defended the jury’s decision in a brief filed on Dec. 2.

Consiglio said Monday he was notified of the decision on Thursday.

Padilla is represented by Philadelphia attorney J. Alexander Hershey and Robert Dunham of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, an organization that represents many death row inmates.

According to court records, Dunham is working on behalf of the Mexican government.

The defense is contending Padilla’s death sentence “rested on misinformation of a constitutional magnitude.”

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.