HOLLIDAYSBURG - Another major criminal case to be tried this month in the Blair County Court was postponed Monday when the defendant reported that he was at odds with his attorney.
David A. Helsel, 30, of Altoona is charged with the kidnapping and indecent assault of two girls, 12 and 14. Police said the incident occurred in June near Prospect Park.
Jury selection was to begin Monday, but Blair County Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle said she was surprised when Assistant Public Defender Justin Ketchel asked that he and the Blair County Public Defender's Office be excused as the defense counsel for Helsel.
Ketchel and Helsel said the differences between them were "irreconcilable," and Ketchel recommended the case be continued and a new attorney - one not associated with the public defender's office - be appointed.
Ketchel argued that Helsel, who has two prior convictions for child sex offenses, deserves adequate legal counsel because Assistant District Attorney Daniel Kiss is seeking life in prison under Pennsylvania's three strikes law.
Life amounts to a "death penalty" for Helsel, Ketchel wrote in court documents.
Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio had hoped that the Helsel case would be one of several major cases tried early this year, but in the past week, plans to try Helsel and homicide suspect Sean L. Allen, 20, of Hollidaysburg, have fallen by the wayside.
As of Monday, Consiglio's office had several homicide cases still unresolved - the Allen case involving the death of Margo "Maggie" Davis, 20, and the Ryan Cunningham case. Cunningham is charged in the stabbing death of Shawn Patrick "Bucky" Noel, 19.
Cunningham has been in the Blair County Prison two years today for Noel's murder. He entered a guilty plea, then withdrew his plea and is now seeking a jury trial.
Nicholas A. Horner, 29, an Iraqi War veteran, also is awaiting trial for the shooting deaths of Scott Garlick, 18, and Raymond Williams, 64, a year ago today, stemming from an alleged robbery at the Subway restaurant on 58th Street. His case is moving toward trial but will probably not come up until later this year.
Other major cases awaiting trial include assault charges against Joseph B. Olecki, who allegedly fired 21 shots into the home of a former girlfriend in March 2009, and Ryan Brothers, 23, of Altoona, who is awaiting trial for the alleged near-death beating of his girlfriend's 3-year-old child. His case, also 13 months old, is awaiting disposition of pretrial motions.
Consiglio was not concerned Monday about the failed attempts to get some of the major cases out of the way. He said the cases will continue to make their way through the courts.
But with respect to the Helsel case, Kiss pointed out that Helsel's speedy trial rights were an issue.
State court rules call for the trial of a defendant in jail to occur within six months of his arrest - unless the defendant is responsible for delaying the case.
Kiss said he wants to avoid releasing Helsel on a speedy trial violation because of his record of abusing children.
Doyle said she was legally required to appoint another lawyer for Helsel because of his differences with the public defender's office, but she said even if she has to release Helsel because of the lack of a speedy trial, she can impose conditions, such as home detention, to protect the public.
"This is a 100 percent delay tactic," Kiss said. "It's going to go on and on and on."
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.