Judge tabs death penalty attorney for convicted killer

HOLLIDAYSBURG – An Altoona defense attorney who has participated in many area homicide cases has been appointed to represent Paul Aaron Ross, 41, in the death penalty phase of his case for killing a Hollidaysburg woman in 2004.

Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva this week named Steven P. Passarello to the Ross defense team.

Passarello will work with Altoona attorney Thomas M. Dickey, who will be the lead attorney for the Ross trial.

Both Passarello and Dickey are among only a few Blair County attorneys who are qualified to represent defendants in a death penalty case.

Passarello was asked how many such cases he has been involved in. He didn’t have a number but said it’s probably in the “double digits.”

He will be responsible for preparing Ross’ defense to the death penalty that is being sought for the death of Tina S. Miller, 26, whose body was found at Canoe Creek State Park on June 26, 2004.

Ross has been charged with criminal homicide aggravated assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, unlawful restraint, simple assault, false imprisonment and indecent assault.

A jury will be asked by Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio to find Ross guilty of first-degree murder, and if that happens, the judge will order a death penalty hearing.

During the hearing, the prosecution presents aggravating factors that would make Ross eligible for the death penalty.

Passarello’s role will be to focus on mitigating factors.

It will be up to the jury to weigh both sets of factors against each other to determine if Ross should be sentenced to life or death.

Passarello was the lead attorney in 2010 in the death penalty trial for William Thompson of Altoona, charged with the stabbing deaths of an elderly couple during a robbery.

The jury found Thompson guilty of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to concurrent life terms.

Ross was tried for Miller’s death in 2005 and has been serving a life sentence.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ordered a retrial for Ross because, it was determined, Dickey did not have enough time to prepare a defense for Ross.

The Ross retrial is scheduled for October.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.