Ross’ murder retrial set

HOLLIDAYSBURG – An attorney for Paul Aaron Ross said Friday he will ask a federal judge to review a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that allows the prosecution to seek the death penalty during Ross’ upcoming retrial for the murder of a Hollidaysburg woman.

The Supreme Court made its ruling in late November.

The decision cleared the way for Ross’ retrial for the murder of 26-year-old Tina Miller whose body was found during the early morning of June 26, 2004, at Canoe Creek State Park.

Ross was charged by state police investigators, who determined he was the last person to be seen with the young woman following a night at a Hollidaysburg pub and an after-hours party.

The retrial was ordered in May 2011, when the Superior Court found Ross’ attorney, Thomas M. Dickey, did not have enough time to fully prepare Ross’ defense.

The appeals court also found “bad acts” testimony from three former Ross girlfriends outlining his abusive attitude toward women was inappropriate.

Since the 2011 ruling the prosecution and defense have repeatedly butted heads.

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio argued that Dickey’s complaint about lacking preparation time was bogus. Despite the argument, the Superior and Supreme Courts upheld the new-trial order.Dickey and Ross’ death penalty attorney, Thomas Hooper, then took issue with Consiglio’s decision to seek the death penalty in the second trial.

The defense argued Ross would be exposed to double jeopardy since the original jury did not sentence him to death, noting it was split on the life-or-death verdict.

Trial Judge Jolene G. Kopriva ruled there were no legal ruling that would bar the prosecution from seeking death in the retrial because the jury had not rejected the death penalty but simply could not decide for or against it.

November’s Supreme Court decision upheld Kopriva’s ruling permitting Consiglio to move forward with his intent to seek the death penalty.

Dickey, Hooper, Consiglio and Assistant District Attorney Deanne Paul met with the judge Friday to discuss the retrial.

Kopriva set jury selection for the last week in May with the trial to begin the first week of June.

Dickey is the lead attorney for the trial, but Hooper serves as Ross’ death penalty attorney. In Pennsylvania, a separate attorney is appointed for the death penalty phase, which will be held if Ross is found guilty of first-degree murder.

Hooper informed the judge that on Monday he will ask for a federal review of the state decision to allow the death penalty.

He will have to seek permission from Kopriva and the federal judge to gain a stay in the retrial.

Meanwhile, the planning for the retrial moved into full swing Friday.

Several issues must be resolved.

Dickey told the judge he will be seeking a change of venue, not just because the case over a 12-year period has received a great deal of publicity but because prejudice against Ross is “inherent,” meaning the public knows by now Ross was found guilty of first-degree murder.

The judge could order the trial be moved to another county or the jury could be selected in another county and brought to Blair for the trial.

Kopriva has asked both sides to contact their experts to determine if the May-June trial date is acceptable.

The prosecution must determine if a forensic pathologist, Dr. Sara Lee Funke of Allentown, will be available to testify. She performed the autopsy on Miller, but allegedly has been in ill health lately.

The judge wants to know Funke’s status by Feb. 22, and she wants Dickey to file his change of venue request by March 1.

The defense attorneys informed Kopriva they may have additional motions to file.