HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blair County will have 120 days to retry an Altoona man who has been serving a lengthy state prison sentence on drug charges.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has granted Eli Lyles, 31, who lived at 1542 Bell Ave., a new trial because testimony in his 2008 jury trial revealed the content of a Push Out The Pusher phone tip that indicated there was "drug activity" between Lyles' home and the home of another man, Thomas Rhone, who lived at 1628 Bell Ave.
The court concluded that the content of the telephone tip was improper hearsay that should not have been presented to the jury.
Lyles is serving a 10 1/2- to 21-year prison term at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill after being convicted on charges of possession with intent to deliver, conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
State Trooper Charles Schaefer was permitted to tell the jury that police received a tip that initiated an investigation into Lyles, Rhone and others, but it was not proper to tell the jury the content of that tip, a three-judge panel ruled.
Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter earlier had ruled that revealing the content of the tip was allowed.
According to the appeals court, Lyles was convicted on circumstantial evidence. No one witnessed his involvement in drug deals or in the transfer of cocaine.
The police investigation showed that Lyles often went from his home to Rhone's home. The Superior Court pointed out Lyles' father lived at the Rhone address. Rhone also went to Lyles' house.
"Socializing with a drug dealer [Rhone] alone does not suffice to establish an agreement or criminal enterprise for conspiracy purposes," the judges concluded.
Lyles had also purchased a red pickup truck from Rhone, according to the evidence, but that truck sat in front of Rhone's house.
Police contended the truck was used to "stash" drugs. A search of the truck, owned by Lyles, turned up $20,000 worth of cocaine and a handgun.
The appeals court pointed out that the truck had an expired registration and inspection sticker and was not moved during the drug investigation. While Lyles' expired registration and insurance cards were found in the truck, others had access to the truck, including Lyles' father, the judges said.
Police found money, a scale and an agent used for cutting cocaine in Rhone's residence.
"Throughout this intensive investigation, [Lyles] was never seen driving or even near the truck," the judges stated.
The investigation connected Lyles to Rhone, who "undoubtedly was involved in drug trafficking," and to 1628 Bell Ave., the judges ruled. But the only evidence linking Lyles to the drug activity was the information in the tip to the county's drug hotline, the judges said.
The prosecution did not agree with the Superior Court decision and recently asked for a reconsideration, but that was denied, Blair County Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise said Tuesday.
Lyles' retrial will probably be held this fall, Kagarise said.
Rhone, 35, is serving a 15- to 30-year sentence for his part in the distribution of cocaine.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.