Testimony: Man admits to ownership of drugs

When Altoona police arrived at 2319 Maple Avenue late on Nov. 30 after a caller reported a man with a gun at the residence, officers knew where to look.

A few months earlier, late on Aug. 29, Altoona police allegedly found a fugitive from a Blair County Sheriff’s Department warrant – Lemarious Ford, 24, of Hollidaysburg – hiding in the home’s attic with drugs, Altoona police Cpl. Nathan Snyder testified Wednesday.

Upstairs, in the third-story attic about midnight, Altoona police again found someone hiding, Snyder testified, adding that along with 18-year-old Jalaal Ibn Battle, of Johnstown, officers also found crack cocaine, three-quarters of a pound of marijuana, packets of heroin and $5,300 in cash.

Snyder’s testimony came Wednesday during the preliminary hearing for Michael E. Mitchell, 18, who lived at the home along with his mother, 34-year-old Mandy Pierce.

Mitchell faces three counts of felony possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and misdemeanour possession, as well as a single count of possession of drug paraphernalia for the drugs and a multi-colored pot pipe police said was sitting on his night stand of his second floor bedroom.

A gun was also found in Mitchell’s room and other indications of the drug trade, such as a box of sandwich bags with missing corners, were found after police sought and executed a search warrant at the home.

Snyder testified Pierce allowed officers into the home to look for the reported man with the gun and that after his arrest related to the marijuana pipe, Mitchell admitted the drugs, except for the heroin, belonged to him. He even told police how much he paid for the drugs and how much he would make from selling the stash, Snyder told Magisterial District Judge Todd Kelly.

While Mitchell’s defense attorney, Douglas Keating, hammered away at how police proceeded with the call, questioning Snyder as to how officers went about their search for the male with a gun by the anonymous caller, Kelly questioned Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks as to the number of counts against Mitchell.

Kelly asked if case law supported charging a suspect with one count for each different type of drug or if it was appropriate to only charge him once since the drugs were all found in one spot in the house.

“Why should I sustain three counts of this?” Kelly asked, prompting Weeks to note that it was “routine” in drug prosecutions to add additional counts for additional substances when police encountered suspects accused of dealing more than one drug. Weeks said he had prosecuted such cases in the past that ultimately passed muster upon review by the state Superior Court, but said he could supply the judge with the appropriate case law to support the maneuver.

Keating pointed out that just because something is routine doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right, and after conferring with his client, he agreed to return in a week to hear Kelly’s decision after providing his argument that three counts is not justified.

Weeks pointed out that Kelly’s decision would have great implications for the case, since tossed charges can not simply be reintroduced into the case once it moves past the District Court level.

Kelly told each attorney to submit their case law to him by Tuesday, and they would reconvene Wednesday to address the question.

Pierce, who only faces a single count on each drug-related charge, waived her charges onto Blair County Court in December while Battle, who is also charged with one count for each of the three drugs found, posted his $35,000 bail Dec. 30 after his case was held for court following a preliminary hearing Dec. 11. Pierce and Mitchell both remain in Blair County Prison, bail set for each at $35,000 cash.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.