Two enter pleas in assault cases

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Two of the four men accused a year ago of assaulting and sexually assaulting two fellow inmates in the Blair County Prison presented pleas in court on Monday while two others selected a jury to hear their cases.

Zachary Moore, 25, of Altoona, and Curtis W. Ramsey, 32, Tyrone, submitted pleas to charges of aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, assault by prisoner, terroristic threats and possession of an instrument of crime.

Meanwhile, defendants Charles Frank and Maurice Wakefield II, represented by attorneys Robert S. Donaldson and Scott Nathan Pletcher, selected jurors and are scheduled for trial starting April 2.

In exchange for Moore’s no contest pleas, Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio recommended and Judge Timothy M. Sullivan imposed a negotiated sentence of 14 to 28 years.

In exchange for Ramsey’s guilty pleas, Consiglio recommended and Judge Wade Kagarise imposed a negotiated sentence of six to 12 years.

The difference in the sentence length reflects their level of culpability, Consiglio said.

Hollidaysburg police filed charges last year against Moore, Ramsey and four additional inmates for a pair of assaults at the prison in March 2017. Police collectively accused the group of plotting to beat up one inmate who was threatened with a homemade knife, then assaulting a second inmate by attempting to remove tobacco that was hidden in his rectum.

In exchange for Monday’s pleas, Consiglio dropped charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse filed against Moore and Ramsey. The district attorney did the same thing in November when Allen James Grager, 23, of Altoona entered guilty pleas for his role in the assaults in exchange for a sentence of eight to 20 years. At that time, Consiglio said the aggravated assault charge covered what happened and led to an appropriate sentence.

Defense attorney Mark Zearfaus said it was Moore’s decision to submit the no contest pleas.

“Maybe after the testimony from the first trial, maybe he thought he would be better off by taking the plea,” Zearfaus said.

The first trial in this case began Feb. 5 but came to an abrupt halt on Feb. 6 after a juror disclosed that she thought she was developing a bias based on Moore’s behavior and talked with fellow jurors about it.

On Feb. 5, one of the victim inmates accused Moore of holding a homemade knife to his chin. Another inmate, who had not yet testified, was described as having a severely maimed ear.

Attorney Richard Corcoran, who was preparing to defend Ramsey, said his client felt the negotiated plea was his better option. He thought he would risk getting a longer sentence if convicted in a jury trial, Corcoran said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.