HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross said Tuesday that she is under court order not to release an autopsy report on a homicide that occurred more than seven years ago, pending the outcome of a hearing before Bedford County Judge Thomas Ling this afternoon.
The seal on Ross' records was requested by Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins, who is concerned that information in the autopsy report on the death of 31-year-old Dana Gates would compromise an ongoing investigation into her death.
The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat newspaper is seeking a review of the autopsy report, the continuation of a court battle that began in 2002.
The Tribune-Democrat and the Mirror sought autopsy reports from Ross for homicides in the early part of the decade. The Mirror fought a lengthy court battle to review the autopsy involving the brutal killing of 42-year-old Randy Buchanan in Altoona's Juniata section.
It wasn't until two weeks ago that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that autopsy reports, under the state coroners' law, were public record.
The high court's decision involved a Lehigh County case and the Allentown Morning Call challenging the nonpublic status of autopsies.
In November 2001, Dana Gates was found badly beaten and with her wrists bound in her front yard in Queen.
State police made an arrest, but homicide charges were dropped for lack of evidence.
Higgins says the Gates homicide is under active investigation. He said he discussed the case with the crime lab personnel three months ago and met with investigators last week.
"I am very hopeful an arrest will eventually be made in this case again," he said.
Ross said she was issued a court order to seal the Gates autopsy.
She said she will not attend today's meeting.
Higgins said an order by a Bedford County judge would be valid in Blair County and said Ross' attorney and Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio have no objections to the seal.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.