Drass moves to keep petition

Hollidaysburg-area man challenges latest ruling

A Hollidaysburg-area man who contends he received too much jail time for the January 2005 murder of his grandfather is challenging a recommendation by a federal magistrate that his latest petition be dismissed because it was filed too late.

The federal magistrate, Cynthia Reed Eddy, made her recommendation in December but stated that the defendant, Thomas Scott Drass, 37, could file objections to her recommendation.

The decision whether to grant Drass a hearing or dismiss his petition eventually lies with U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson in Johnstown.

Drass, who entered a guilty plea to third-degree murder, was sentenced to 20-40 years in a state correctional institution by Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan in 2006.

He is being housed at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview near Bellefonte.

Since being sentenced, Drass has filed several requests for a lower sentence.

In his latest post-conviction petition, he claims his trial attorney was ineffective for advising him to enter a guilty plea.

He maintains the shooting of his grandfather, Dwayne Chamberlain of Hollidaysburg RD, with a newly purchased rifle was an accident.

Drass also contended he missed deadlines in the past for filing his petitions because of his mental health issues and because he was hearing voices.

According to the federal magistrate, Drass should have filed his most recent petition in 2008. His petition wasn’t filed with the federal court until 2016, and because of Drass’ tardiness, Eddy recommended the petition be dismissed without hearing.

Drass is challenging that ruling, pointing out in late December and in an addendum filed this past week that he believes he is being denied “due process to a fair decision of his appeals by a fair and impartial court.”

He claims the merits of his appeals should be addressed in the interests of justice, noting that “petitioner suffers from mental illness, has an arachnoid cyst in his brain, is of below average intelligence, is learning disabled, diagnosed as borderline mentally retarded, has difficulty reading and writing, not versed in the law and unable to obtain legal assistance with his court filings.”

He said that when he was asked if he was pleading guilty “freely, intelligently, and voluntarily,” his answer was “not really.”

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio in his answer to the petition pointed out Drass’ “diminished capacity” was taken into consideration when murder charges against him were lowered from first-degree, which carries a life sentence, to third degree.

Drass said when pleading, he was expecting a 10- to 20-year sentence “as was the agreed upon sentence for his guilty plea.”

Eddy has given Consiglio until Jan. 23 to respond to Drass’ objections to her recommendation.