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Judge denies Padilla investigation

Defense seeks to probe killer’s life as child in Mexico

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County does not have to pay for a Spanish-speaking investigator to travel to Mexico and collect evidence in support of Miguel Padilla’s post-conviction appeals, a Blair County senior judge has ruled.

While an investigator would be expected to gather information for challenging Padilla’s death penalty sentence, Judge Hiram A. Carpenter concluded that mitigating factors based on Padilla’s abusive family life and poverty have already been explored.

“We are more than justified in concluding that further investigation into these events is not reasonably necessary … but rather a fishing expedition,” Carpenter wrote.

Padilla, a native of Mexico who grew up in Gallitzin and was living in Altoona when he gunned down three people at the UVA Club on Aug. 28, 2005, was convicted and sentenced in 2006 to death. While his case is on appeal, Padilla remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene.

Those he shot and killed were UVA owner Al Mignogna, doorman Fred Rickabaugh and patron Steven Heiss, after a dispute over whether Padilla could enter the after-hours club.

In support of Padilla’s post-conviction appeals, defense attorney Laurence Shtasel of Philadelphia asked Carpenter to authorize $10,000 for a Spanish-speaking investigator to explore Padilla’s early family life.

During the death penalty phase of Padilla’s trial, the jury acknowledged three mitigating circumstances it considered: that Padilla was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance at the time of the offenses, that he adjusted well to prison life and that he is good father.

Shtasel maintains that because of a poor mitigation presentation or poor investigation, the jury failed to recognize other significant factors including Padilla’s childhood sexual abuse and the domestic violence Padilla witnessed in his childhood home.

During trial, Padilla’s mother, Maria Brauns, testified that in April 2005, about five months before the homicides, Padilla told her he was sexually abused at the age of 6 by his uncle. She said her son, after revealing that information, became quieter and drank more.

“It is critical for post-conviction counsel to retain a Spanish-speaking mitigation specialist to interview family members and other potential witnesses in Mexico about the uncle’s sexual abuse of Mr Padilla,” Shtasel said in his request before the court.

The defense attorney also pointed out that Padilla’s brother, Oscar Padilla Jr., described their father, Oscar Padilla Sr., as a bad father, an alcoholic and physically abusive to their mother.

“None of the crucial details surrounding these allegations were developed through other witnesses, thus demonstrating the need for further investigation in Mexico by a Spanish-speaking mitigation specialist,” Shtasel stated in his request.

Carpenter, who presided over the trial, reviewed the trial transcript, including testimony offered by Brauns, Oscar Padilla Jr. and another brother, Christian Padilla, who described the family’s life in Mexico before moving to California and later to Pennsylvania.

Carpenter pointed out that much of the trial testimony about Padilla’s early life in Mexico stood as presented and was never challenged. So to answer the request for the Spanish-speaking investigator, Carpenter questioned who the investigator would talk to.

“This jury heard testimony from the family members who were actually living in the defendant’s household in Mexico,” Carpenter wrote. “These were the same people who were living with the defendant later in California and Pennsylvania. They knew him best. Their testimony as to life in Mexico was never challenged let alone contradicted … nowhere in the testimony is there any positive testimony whatsoever positive about life in Mexico.”

In his request, Shtasel proposed that the Spanish-speaking investigator could travel to Padilla’s native town of Colima, Mexico, to interview people who knew the Padilla family, in addition to aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers and Padilla’s father.

“We understand counsel’s attempt to pursue a ‘theory’ that more evidence may exist ‘somewhere,’ and that defense can produce an expert who will suggest the possibility that evidence ‘might’ be found,” the judge wrote. “However, if that is the test of reasonable necessity, then no request would ever be denied.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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