Court rejects request to reopen abuse case

Duncansville-area man’s claims filed beyond time limit

A Pennsylvania appeals court has rejected a request by a Duncansville-area man to reopen his conviction on two counts of aggravated indecent assault of a 5-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy.

Steven Lee Mowery, 53, asked the Superior Court in 2015 to reopen the child abuse case because he claimed that after being incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale, he discovered evidence that would help him clear his name.

Mowery was sentenced by Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan to a term of 3.5 to 10 years after pleading guilty in 2011.

During a post-conviction hearing, Mowery told Sullivan that he initially entered pleas to the charges because, he stated, “I don’t have any proof that I wasn’t guilty.”

According to Mowery, that changed when his wife sent him two reports prepared by Blair County Children, Youth & Families, allegedly containing exculpatory information that he believes would enable him to show his innocence.

The prosecution argued against Mowery’s attempt to reopen his case, claiming that his filing of a post-conviction claim was well beyond the year limit that the courts impose for such petitions.

Under the one-year rule, Mowery should have filed the petition by Dec. 5, 2012.

His petition was not filed until March 2, 2015, which made it “patently untimely,” according to the Superior Court opinion issued Friday by Judges Susan Peikes Gant­man, Jacqueline O. Shogan and John L. Musmanno.

However, in a further appeal, Mowery won the right to request a review of his case by arguing an exception to the one-year rule: that the child welfare reports represented new evidence that would tend to prove his innocence.

The Superior Court was ready to hear the case in May, but returned it to Blair County with a request that Mowery’s attorney, Douglas Keating, clarify the issue before the court.

The defense attorney replied by stating the issue was, “Whether the PCRA Court (Judge Sullivan) erred and abused its discretion in denying and dismissing (Mowery’s) PCRA petition?”

A different timeliness rule then was raised by the prosecution, contending that Mowery should have filed his petition citing the new-evidence exception within 60 days of receiving the packet from his wife.

Sullivan found that the discovery packet was received by Mowery in the state correctional institution in late 2013, but that he did not bring it to the court’s attention until March 2, 2015, beyond the 60-day time limit.

Sullivan also questioned Mowery’s testimony that his wife had received the packet from former Assis­tant Dis­trict Attorney Dan Kiss, who prosecuted child abuse cases, and from the Blair County Clerk of Courts.

Sullivan pointed out, in rejecting Mowery’s petition, that Kiss would not have sent a discovery packet to Mowery’s wife, noting it probably came from his trial attorney.

“Further,” the judge stated in his opinion, “the Blair County Clerk of Court’s Office would not have within its possession any discovery packet for any criminal case.”

Because Mowery missed the filing date, the Superior Court panel concluded, “We lack the authority to address the merits of any substantive claims raised in the PCRA petition.”