Death row inmate Andre Staton may be a step closer to execution for the 2004 murder of his former girlfriend.
After nearly a five-year wait, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected his appeal that the Blair County District Attorney's Office shouldn't have been allowed to use the aggravating circumstance of Staton being under a protection-from-abuse order when he stabbed Beverly Yohn at her Altoona home.
It was one of two aggravating circumstances prosecutors used in obtaining the death-penalty verdict against Staton. A jury found that the aggravating circumstances outweighed four mitigating circumstances when it handed down the verdict.
Staton, 48, was sentenced to death June 1, 2006. He is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene, Greene County.
Staton claimed that he wasn't aware of the PFA orders that were issued against him at Yohn's request - one temporary and one final.
The high court ruled otherwise.
There is no dispute that Staton was never formally served with either order, but Staton "avoided that service" by the Blair County Sheriff's Department, Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote for the court.
Witnesses also testified that Staton knew about the orders not only from Yohn but also from a Family Services Inc. employee at the Blair County PFA Office, Castille said.
Attorney Thomas N. Farrell of Pittsburgh, who represented Staton in his appeal, said he probably won't ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling.
An appeal could be made directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It would be very difficult because this particular issue is a state question not a federal question," Farrell said. "The Supreme Court does not handle state questions; it handles federal questions."
While it was not a specific part of Staton's appeal, the high court also ruled the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a first-degree murder conviction. A copy of the ruling will be sent to Gov. Tom Corbett, who would have to issue an execution warrant against Staton.
The ruling issued Tuesday was long delayed because of the numerous attorneys who had been appointed for Staton, the Supreme Court noted. Farrell is Staton's seventh appeals attorney. The prior six either withdrew from the case or were removed by court order.
Mirror Staff Writer Mark Leberfinger is at 946-7450.