HOLLIDAYSBURG - The charges against Raymond C. Conterras, 51, of Tyrone are not serious - alleged summary offenses of disorderly conduct and harassment against the mother of his children, Chasitee C. Novak, 24, who died in May when her car struck a 100-ton crane at a bridge construction site in Tipton.
But when Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter heard testimony against Conterras last week, emotions ran high and the legal issues were confounding to the point where Carpenter delayed a decision on the charges at least until this week so he could review the law.
During the testimony, Novak's grandfather, James Novak of Tyrone, threatened Conterras.
Because Chasitee Novak is deceased, the only eyewitness to the alleged domestic incident is one of the couple's 3-year-old twins.
"I'm not going to have a child in here on a summary disorderly conduct," Carpenter told Assistant District Attorney Deanne Paul.
Everybody agreed it was not a good idea, and possibly even damaging to the child, to have him attempt to recall the violent events that supposedly occurred in front of him.
Paul, however, was attempting to have the judge consider facts that Chasitee Novak allegedly told her grandparents and two Tyrone police officers, Chad Weaver and Jessica Walk, within hours of the fray.
Conterras's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Joe Hartye, objects to the testimony because it is hearsay, not coming from eyewitnesses to the event.
Paul said the story of what occurred is admissible hearsay, based on an "excited utterance" by the victim who was so upset the law presumes she is telling the truth.
Chasitee Novak's grandmother, Carol Novak, said her granddaughter was so upset that when she came to her house after the knife incident, "she cried the whole time. For eight straight hours she cried."
Hartye said an excited utterance has to occur "immediately" after an incident, and Chasitee Novak didn't tell her story to her grandparents and to officers for several hours after the alleged May confrontation.
Carpenter explained he has two decisions to make: whether to declare the victim's statements admissible hearsay, and if they are, whether it is a violation of Conterras' rights under the Sixth Amendment because his attorney is unable to cross-exam the victim.
Chasitee Novak last May called Tyrone police to report that Conterras held a knife to her neck during a domestic fracas, and that he then destroyed the inside of the house and stole the television.
He was charged with attempted aggravated assault, aggravated assault, and theft as well as disorderly conduct and harassment. Paul said assault charges - the most serious offenses in the case - had to be dismissed because of Novak's death.
Conterras presented the judge with his own version of events, stating that Chasitee Novak chased him with a knife that night. He contended from the stand she had a problem with bath salts, and he blamed his children for tossing food around the house.
"I never laid a hand on Chasitee," he said.
Hartye added one more issue to the emotional mix when he pointed out the grandparents are fighting Conterras for custody of the children.
Carpenter made several comments about the situation.
After the grandfather threatened Conterras from the witness stand, the judge said, "This is not a place for that."
He described the case as a "a tough situation."
"The law puts the fact-finder [the judge] in a position where you look like a jerk no matter what you do," Carpenter said.
He concluded by telling Conterras even if he is found guilty of disorderly conduct and harassment, the fine he will impose is only $300.