Altoona man’s drug sentence cut in half

Ranger eligible for resentencing due to change in law

HOLLIDAYSBURG — An Altoona man who has spent nine years in prison on drug trafficking charges has had his 20- to 40-year sentence cut in half.

Robert David Ranger, 44, described in 2011 as a high level heroin and cocaine dealer, said Thursday that he has changed in prison, where he has learned carpentry skills, completed self-improvement programs and secured help available to veterans.

“I guarantee you this, that I will definitely leave the past alone,” Ranger told Blair County Senior Judge Jolene G. Kopriva as his voice cracked with emotion and he wiped away tears. “I want to convince others that (selling drugs) is not the way to go.”

Kopriva, who presided over Ranger’s trial in 2011, remembered him as being “very bottled up” and angry.

In court Thursday, she told Ranger: “You’re a different person today.”

Then she imposed a sentence of 10 to 20 years, which credits Ranger for time served but leaves his release in the hands of the state parole and probation board.

First Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks said he was “extremely disappointed” with the new sentence. He asked Kopriva for another 20- to 40-year sentence, reflecting Ranger’s years of selling heroin and cocaine and the damage it caused to the community.

Ranger is entitled to resentencing only because of a legal technicality, Weeks reminded the judge in reference to years of legal debate over the effective date for reinstatement of Ranger’s appeal rights.

The legal dispute developed because Ranger’s trial attorney, Weeks said, didn’t file a post-trial appeal.

Kopriva, in a ruling handed down in December 2017, recognized an effective time frame as to when Ranger’s post-trial appeal was “pending.” Because it fell at a time when Pennsylvania mandatory sentences were found to be unconstitutional, Ranger was deemed eligible for resentencing.

In September 2018, a three-member panel of the state Superior Court upheld Kopriva’s ruling.

Weeks said Thursday that he tried to get the entire Superior Court to hear the case, but his request was denied.

After Thursday’s hearing concluded, Ranger’s attorney Steve Passarello said he was pleased with Kopriva’s ruling and her recognition of how Ranger has changed.

“He’s clearly a different person than he was 10 years ago,” the defense attorney said.

Passarello also disagreed that the resentencing hearing was based on a legal technicality.

“We’re here because mandatory sentences are unconstitutional,” Pas­sarello said.

Kopriva asked Ranger what he intends to do for income upon release from prison.

“You’re going to have a lot of felonies on your record,” she said.

Ranger said the Veterans Affairs is helping him now, something it didn’t do years ago.

Ranger said he signed up for the military immediately after high school and was 22 years old when he was discharged without any specific career plans.

When Kopriva asked him why he got into selling drugs, the tearful Ranger said: “I didn’t know anything then … and I owed somebody $400.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.