Man pleads guilty to gun charges

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Jermaine J. Morgan of Altoona has been sentenced to eight to 20 years in prison for the illegal possession of a firearm and related charges after he appeared in a Blair County Courtroom Monday.

Morgan was scheduled to go before a jury in June on the gun charges, but when it came time for his trial, he informed the court he couldn’t appear because he had to go to the hospital.

His jury was dismissed, and an attempt to select a new jury was scheduled for Monday.

Morgan and his attorney, Kristen Anastasi, wanted a continuance, but Blair County Judge Wade Kagarise told Morgan that it was time to make a decision: either go to trial or enter guilty pleas to illegal possession of a handgun, possession of a firearm without a license and receiving stolen property.

The .40-caliber handgun Morgan was accused of carrying on Dec. 9, 2012, had been stolen from an Altoona residence years before. Morgan told police he had purchased the weapon.

After Morgan entered his guilty pleas, the issue revolved around when he should report to prison.

Referring to Morgan’s June visit to the hospital, Anastasi reported that Morgan suffered from a hernia and tests showed that he had a mass on his esophagus.

Morgan said he wanted to get his medical issues cleared up before the start of his jail term. He also asked the judge to allow him to remain free so he could be present when his children begin the new school year.

Kagarise agreed that Morgan did not have to report to prison until Sept. 5.

A condition of Morgan’s plea is that his wife, Latasha, will not have to do prison time for a driving under the influence offense.

Latasha will become a candidate for the county’s Intermediate Punishment Program, which provides treatment for those charged with substance abuse rather than require time behind bars.

If Latasha successfully completes the five-year program, her record can be purged.

The Morgans got into trouble after police followed Latasha’s vehicle on Dec. 9, 2012.

When she pulled up to her home on the 1400 block of Washington Avenue, officers began to question her because her vehicle had a disabled brake light and license plate light.

The police affidavit charged that Latasha was intoxicated.

Jermaine appeared on the front porch as police approached his wife. Officers noted he had his hands behind his back. When he turned around, officers noticed a holster in a back pocket and immediately began a search for a gun, which was found on the home’s front steps.

Morgan has been involved in past shootings, which police knew, and took him to custody.

A search of Morgan’s home also located 10 pounds of marijuana worth $20,000 on the street.

Blair County Assistant District Attorney Peter Weeks made it clear to Morgan that the plea agreement of eight to 20 years does not include the drug offenses that were filed against him.

Morgan earlier this year was one of two defendants who challenged mandatory sentences authorized under state law as being illegal because Pennsylvania’s procedure for imposing those sentences does not conform with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Blair County judges have since ruled that mandatory sentencing laws in Blair County no longer apply.

Weeks and the Blair DA’s office have appealed that decision, and as a result, the prosecution of Morgan for the drugs found in his home remains on hold.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.