County court asked to clarify weapons case
Superior court will retain jurisdiction of Bantum appeal
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has retained jurisdiction over an appeal filed on behalf of an Altoona man who was convicted two years ago of theft and the unlawful possession of a firearm, but it has returned the case for a second time this year to Blair County for a clarification.
Brian Bantum, 43, a native of Philadelphia, was convicted in 2017 of stealing a loaded handgun during a party at the home of a neighbor on the 2100 block of Eighth Avenue.
When police were informed of the missing weapon, they went to Bantum’s home, and, after he allegedly led them on a “wild goose chase” by indicating the gun may be in a nearby yard, one of the officers noticed the top of a grill on Bantum’s back porch had been moved.
The officer checked and found the .40-caliber handgun inside the grill.
Bantum, because of a past conviction that barred him from ownership of a firearm, was charged with the illegal possession of a weapon, theft and with disorderly conduct stemming from his actions at the neighbor’s home.
The case against Bantum, according to Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan, was “circumstantial,” meaning nobody saw him take the firearm from the neighbor’s house, but it took a jury only 42 minutes to find him guilty.
Sullivan imposed a five- to 10-year prison sentence on Bantum.
Bantum is being housed at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon.
Since his conviction, he has contended the verdict was “against the weight of the evidence” — that proof against him did not rise to “beyond a reasonable” doubt.
Bantum appealed the verdict to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, but in January the court returned the case to Sullivan because of confusion over who was representing Bantum in the appeal.
Two attorneys were listed as representing Bantum, and the appeals court wanted Blair County to “straighten out this tangled web of representation.”
The Superior Court returned the case with instructions asking Sullivan to write a supplemental opinion as to why he rejected a new trial for Bantum.
The court also ordered the judge to appoint a new attorney for Bantum.
Within days, Sullivan prepared a new opinion explaining his decision to reject Bantum’s request for a new trial.
He also appointed Hollidaysburg attorney Edward E. Zang as Bantum’s new attorney.
Zang eventually filed an “Anders brief,” contending the issues raised in Bantum’s appeal are “frivolous.”
But a Superior Court panel that included Jacqueline O. Shogan, Deborah A. Kunselman and Gene Strassburger, now want Zang to go a step further and outline what possible issues could be raised to support Bantum’s appeal.
He also must formally receive approval to withdraw as Bantum’s counsel from the Superior Court.
Finally, the appeals court stated, he must provide a copy of his petition to Bantum and advise him that he has a right to retain new counsel.
The Superior Court’s latest opinion in the Bantum case was issued last week.