Death penalty not sought
HOLLIDAYSBURG – The prosecution will not seek the death penalty against Hugo Baez of Altoona for allegedly killing Willie S. Solomon, 24.
Blair County Deputy Assistant District Attorney Jackie Bernard said at an arraignment for Baez, 20, before Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan on Friday that the death penalty is not being sought primarily because the victim’s mother is opposed to it.
Baez, 20, a native of New York, who is represented by Altoona attorney Thomas M. Dickey, told the judge that he had copies of the homicide and other charges against him and listened intently as the judge informed the defense of the deadlines it must meet in filing requests for a bill of particulars, which outlines what the government is intending to show during its case, and pretrial motions, filed in an attempt to possibly whittle down the charges.
Bernard, who will be assisted in the case by Assistant District Attorney Peter J. Weeks, told Sullivan she would not be seeking the death penalty.
Following the arraignment, Bernard explained one primary consideration in deciding to forego the death penalty was opposition to it by Solomon’s mother, Linda, who lives in Altoona.
In order for the prosecution to seek the death penalty, it must show that there were aggravating circumstances involved in the killing.
Bernard said she thought the prosecution could prove aggravating circumstances, such as the shooting that occurred on Halloween night at Choices Night Club in Altoona endangered many people other than Solomon.
But, Bernard explained, seeking the death penalty is not something the prosecution undertakes just because an aggravating circumstance might be present.
She said that a death penalty case is more intense for the victim’s family and that it is important to have the victim’s family’s support and commitment, even though that may not be the overriding factor in the final decision.
In the Solomon case, she felt the mother’s opinion was important.
Bernard said Solomon’s mother planned to be present for Friday’s arraignment, but she couldn’t make the proceeding when other circumstances arose.
Baez, who remains in custody, told the judge through Dickey that he was not guilty and wanted a trial by jury.
He faces a general charge of criminal homicide, three charges of aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, firearms not to be carried without a license and presenting a false identity to law enforcement.
The criminal homicide charge includes first-degree murder, which could land Baez in prison for life, if convicted. It also includes second-degree murder, third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
Dickey said after Friday’s hearing that the defense has a lot of work to do.
Now that the arraignment is out of the way, he said the defense is entitled to statements from witnesses and may review other evidence that will be used against Baez.
One of the most damaging pieces of evidence so far has been a videotape of events in the bar showing Baez drawing a gun and firing it at Solomon’s brother, Jacob Dormevil.
As the testimony showed at a six-hour preliminary hearing in December, Baez was following Dormevil out the front door of the nightclub allegedly to fight him.
The testimony revealed continuing tension with Dormevil and Solomon on one side and Baez and the his friend, Brandon A. Midder, 24, on the other.
The fistfight never occurred. The tape showed Baez appeared to be shooting at Dormevil who was unscathed that night, while Solomon was supposedly shot as he came to his brother’s aid.
Midder was shown on the tape allegedly pistol-whipping Solomon after he had been shot and was down. That theory is being questioned by Midder’s attorney, Steven P. Passarello.
Midder has been charged with aggravated assault, firearms not to be carried without a license, possession of a prohibited firearm, conspiracy, hindering apprehension, simple assault and tampering with evidence.
Midder and Baez were arrested as they were traveling toward Harrisburg on Route 22.
Dickey said he isn’t sure the prosecution had aggravating circumstances it could present to the jury.
From his side, he said the evidence has to be reviewed before he prepares his theory of what happened.
Self-defense remains a possibility, Dickey said.
Dickey during an earlier preliminary hearing brought out possible gang connections that could have led to the shooting.
But Bernard didn’t dwell on possible gang involvement, noting the shooting occurred as Baez and Dormevil were on their way outside to engage in a fistfight after some taunting in the club.
Blair County has a list of “high-profile cases” that are assigned to a judge to make sure they move without a hitch through the system.
Sullivan said the Baez case is one of them and that it is being turned over to Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle to handle the pretrial issues.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.