Convicted dealer wants sentence cut

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Rasheed Myers, a Brooklyn native who is serving 20 to 40 years in prison for being the leader of an Altoona drug organization, is asking that his 2003 sentence be cut in half because of a recent court decision declaring Pennsylvania’s mandatory sentencing laws unconstitutional.

Blair County judges by a 4-2 vote in May decided that mandatory sentences would no longer be imposed locally pending the outcome of various appeals that have been filed with the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme courts.

Now Myers, 34, who is housed at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, is asking that the U.S. Supreme Court decision be applied retroactively, meaning that those parts of his sentence based on mandatories be vacated.

The nation’s highest court ruled that mandatory sentence enhancements, such as those based on the amount of drugs or selling drugs in a school zone, are issues that must be decided by a jury.

Pennsylvania law previously had judges deciding on mandatory sentences after the accused had been found guilty.

Myers faced consecutive mandatory five- to 10-year sentences on two counts, possession with intent to deliver and dealing in the proceeds of unlawful actively.

His petition asks that the sentences be set aside due to the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Arguments throughout Pennsylvania are focused on how to amend Pennsylvania’s system to once again apply mandatory sentences, which are favored by prosecutors throughout the state, and whether the ruling should affect those already given mandatory sentences.

Attempts Thursday to reach Blair County prosecutors familiar with the arguments in the matter, including Blair County Assistant District Attorney Peter Weeks and First Assistant District Attorney Jackie Bernard, were unsuccessful.

In March, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ordered that an Altoona woman, Natasha Miller, 32, who was sentenced 16 to 32 years for her part in a drug operation that was broken up in 2011 by the West Drug Task Force, be resentenced.

While Miller was sentenced as one of the leaders of a Baltimore-to-Altoona cocaine ring, her case was still under active appeal, which is not the case

with the Myers prosecution.

He entered guilty pleas in 2003 to eight counts of possession with intent to deliver, operating a corrupt organization, dealing in unlawful proceeds and criminal use of a communication facility.

Because of the plea agreement, 39 of the 51 charges against him were dropped.

Myers in 2006 wanted to withdraw his guilty pleas, contending that his sentence probably would have been less had he been able to work with police, but he claimed he never had the opportunity.

Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva called that argument the result of “misguided thinking.”

Hollidaysburg attorney Paul Puskar has been appointed as Myers’ attorney on the mandatory question.

Puskar has 60 days from Tuesday to prepare a complaint so the issue can be presented to the court.

He said Thursday he had just received the appointment and could not address the issue.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.